With 2 1/2 quarters remaining and a one-point lead over Forestville in Monday's Maryland Class B state football quarterfinal, Fairmont Heights altered its game plan and went to a conservative attack. Ralph Paden's team had allowed only 39 points in its first 10 games and the head coach was confident his players could hold off Forestville.

Although he second-guessed himself afterward, he turned out to be right.

"Maybe I got too conservative in the second half, but I have a lot of faith in our defense," said Paden, in his 12th season at Fairmont Heights. "I just felt we could make that one point stand up."

The 7-6 triumph wasn't an artistic one for the Hornets (10-1), but Paden wasn't complaining since Fairmont Heights had earned its third state semifinal berth in the last five years. And as in past years, defense is again the key to the Hornets' success.

"I have to give assistants David Sharpless and Skip Hutton credit for this defense," Paden said. "Our defenses used to sit back and read, now we attack the other team's offense.

"We don't have much size so we depend on our quickness. We can't get out of place, either, because sometimes, if you attack too much, you take a chance on getting burned. So far, it hasn't happened."

Paden is hoping it won't happen Saturday. His defense will probably get its stiffest test by visiting Southern of Garrett County (11-0), which features quick tailback J.R. Bosley. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound senior has rushed for more than 1,600 yards and is also the team's key receiver.

"They are one of the best teams I've seen," Paden said. "He {Bosley} runs out of the I-formation and they really block for him. We've been very consistent on defense all year but we'll have to show a few different looks to Southern."

The Hornets, the top defensive team in the metropolitan area, allowing only 46 points in 11 games, are led by linemen Tim Hall and Calvin Graves, linebackers Dwight Freeland, Bo Hillian and Carl Cooper and All-Met cornerback Cory Williams (13 interceptions).

Although much attention has been given to the defense, Paden is quick to point out the offense is averaging 23 points per game.

"Oh, we can get it going on offense now," Paden said. "We lost our quarterback {Dominic Johnson} with a broken hand in the middle of the Laurel game {a 6-0 loss} and Danny Taylor, who never played there before, has stepped in and done an adequate job. We have good running backs -- Butch Wilson, Jeff Turner and Eugene Wooley -- but we pass when we have to. Inconsistency on offense has been our biggest problem.

"We'll have to play near perfect against Southern. They come off the ball real quick and they believe in that tailback. Our offense has to get us some first downs and keep him off the field. If not, our defense will be tested one more time. We'll stunt some, blitz some, use a little of this and a little of that and we'll see."