In some ways, it was like most any other high school football game. Two teams played hard for two halves as if nothing else mattered. In between the band played. Adults and some students watched from the stands. Other students wandered in front of the stands -- groups of guys and groups of girls discussed which member of the other group was the cutest. All pretty normal stuff.

But in other ways, the game last night between Stuart and Lake Braddock at Stuart was very different. To know that something was wrong, one only had to look at Martin Bermudez, who was lined up with his teammates along the sideline during the national anthem.

A big, burly offensive tackle, Bermudez was crying. He wasn't alone. If the tears weren't flowing, throats certainly were tight. Swallowing became a chore. Bermudez, his teammates and everyone present was observing a moment of silent prayer for John Avila. His absence was the biggest difference of all.

The Stuart senior was in the Alexandria Hospital bed he's been in for the last week. He was still in critical condition and in a coma last night, a week after having undergone 4 1/2 hours of brain surgery. He was injured in Stuart's game at Edison.

Last night Stuart played for the first time since the accident.

"It just feels empty not having the captain and a friend," said Karen Chapman, one of Stuart's team managers.

Mark Maldonado, Stuart's other captain, handled the coin flip by himself. After that, both teams met at midfield. "It was {Coach} Joe Clark's idea," Stuart Coach Tom Arehart would say later of his friend. Clark's Lake Braddock team also raised more than $300 to help the Avila family pay the cost of John's treatment.

Avila was a guard on offense and a linebacker on defense. And his No. 66 was everywhere last night.

It was printed on the left shoulder of those new jerseys. Players wrote "66" on whatever tape they had wrapped themselves in. The number was painted in the corners of each end zone.

When Stuart running back Martin Fernanders took the option pitch, bulled through two Bruins to score from five yards, he layed outstretched on the ground for a moment, seemingly reflecting on the moment. Then he jumped to his feet, took two steps and gave Avila's No. 66 a low-five.

One of several signs said what Fernanders felt: "John, this one's for you."

There had been pep rally yesterday afternoon. But it, too, didn't seem right.

"A little more serious," said teacher Dan Rice, who was selling hot dogs last night. "It's still a pretty sad and solemn student body."

Ryan Walls played in that band and also plays on the junior varsity football team, so he practiced with Avila.

"It scares me," Walls said. "It makes you realize what can happen. Most teen-agers are so . . . 'I can't get hurt. It won't happen to me.' When you see it happen this close, it really makes you think."

For whatever it might be worth, Stuart defeated Lake Braddock, 14-12. Lake Braddock (0-2) 0 0 6 6 12 Stuart (1-2) 7 7 0 0 14

S -- Fernanders 5 run (Baron kick)

S -- Crowder 22 pass from White (Baron kick)

LB -- Welsh 4 run (run failed)

LB -- Welsh 1 run (pass failed)