Joel Hicks, Pulaski County's football coach, had a wishful thought as he prepared his team for today's Virginia State AAA semifinal game against No. 1-ranked T.C. Williams at W.T. Woodson (1:30). Maybe, he thought, it would rain.

Although Pulaski County (10-2) was extremely strong defensively in winning the Northwestern Region for the fourth time in six years, Hicks said the Titans are by far the quickest and most talented team he has seen in years.

Indeed, rain and mud might be his only chance of winning, although the forecast calls for no rain and temperatures in the mid-50s.

"We have to find a way to contain that speed," Hicks said. "We lost to two very tough teams in the preseason and they weren't near as fast as Williams. They are not only quick but have skill at a lot of positions. They are one good team."

The Titans (12-0), who won the state championship in 1971 and reached the semifinals in 1973, will be without one of their top performers, senior tailback Rodney McNeil. McNeil, who has rushed for than 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns, has a hairline facture of his right shinbone.

Johnny Ware, a defensive back, started in place of McNeil against South Lakes in the Northern Region final last week and had 66 yards on 10 carries in a 28-7 victory.

"We'll miss Rodney's contribution, but we thought Johnny did a good job," said Glenn Furman, who has won the Northern District in each of his three years as head coach.

"We're confident our other guys and Johnny will pick up the slack. But Rodney could go 70 (yards) at any time. Bren (Lowery) will have to get the ball more and we'll throw a few more times."

Even without McNeil, the Titans are loaded. Lowery, an all-Met, has rushed for more than 1,300 yards and scored 15 times last week. Quarterback Glenn Williams has rushed and passed for more than 1,200 yards. He has 18 touchdown passes, 12 of them to two-time all-Met split end Shawn McNeil.

Williams is averaging more than 300 yards total offense, three-fourths of that on the ground. The Alexandria school has scored 381 points and allowed 56.

Hicks said the key will be controlling the ball and preventing the big play. "They're great at breaking the big play," he said. "We just have to keep the ball from them."

Pulaski County is basically a running team, averaging just under 20 points per game. Ball carrying has been split between tailbacks Kenny Hampton and K.G. Holmes and quarterback Shain St. Clair. Those three have has rushed for more than 1,400 yards and scored 14 touchdowns. St. Clair has passed for 535 yards and five touchdowns.

Handley, also 12-0, will play host to James Monroe (10-2) in a Virginia AA semifinal today at 1:30.