It is far too early to start talking about titles, but Courtland High School Coach Ken Brown and Potomac's Bill Brown agree the winner of tonight's 8 o'clock Virginia AAA Commonwealth District football game at Potomac will be the team to beat.

"Of course, we both have a lot of games to play, but this one is pretty important," said Brown, whose team won the district last year and finished 11-1 (losing in the Northwest Region final to Salem, 21-7). "The winner will at least have the edge for a week."

Both teams are very strong. Courtland, embarking upon its second season in AAA, tuned up with a 61-0 victory over Spotsylvania in its opener last week. According to Ken Brown, Courtland isn't quite as large up front as Potomac but has some of last season's best players returning, including All-Mets running back/defensive end Tim Canada, guard/nose guard Todd Cook and safety/receiver Stephon Banks.

Potomac lost at Courtland, 27-0, last season but won eight of 10 games before losing the AAA Division II final to Edison, 14-7. Bill Brown won't forget that long evening at Courtland when his team seldom got out of poor field position.

"It was their offense and defense that beat us so much, but they pushed us farther back each time we punted and we could never get good field position," he said. "They take advantage of every mistake and go for the big play immediately after forcing a turnover."

Potomac opened its season with a 23-6 victory over Petersburg, netting more than 300 yards. Paul Kersse completed five of seven passes for 194 yards, including a one-yard pass pattern that receiver Tommy Thigpen turned into a 92-yard touchdown. Milton Thornhill and Larry Jordan gained 96 and 50 yards, respectively.

"They have very good balance and could very well be the biggest team we will face," Ken Brown said. "They can run and throw equally as well. We will have to play good defense to win."

Defense will also be the key to the success of T.C. Williams, the No. 1-ranked team. The always-strong Titans, still smarting from their 10-7 loss to Marshall in the Northern Region semifinals, are eager to get started at 8 tonight at West Potomac.

Eight returning starters from a defense that allowed only 55 points during its 8-3 season and the team's top two rushers, Lydell Scott and Troy Bailey, make Williams among the favorites to advance to the playoffs for a sixth straight season.

West Potomac easily won its opener, 33-7, over Stuart, getting three touchdowns from Reggie Ware.

In another big opener between contenders, Mount Vernon will play host to Robinson and Annandale will play at Lake Braddock at 8 p.m.

Mount Vernon's team is another still harboring memories of what should have been. It won nine straight games before losing to Marshall, 21-0, in the region final. Mount Vernon had beaten Marshall, 20-0, during the regular season.

Cardozo will play Anacostia at 5:30 and Theodore Roosevelt will meet Eastern at 8 in a doubleheader tonight at Eastern in the first annual Earl Richards Memorial Classic. Richards, a former coach at Eastern, died Tuesday of a heart attack.