September was a football mini-nightmare for Coolidge High School and Coach Sam Taylor. The two-time defending Interhigh League champions were inexperienced and Taylor badly needed nonleague games to prepare for what was expected to be a difficult league season.

Coolidge failed to fill two open dates in September and lost another 48 minutes of playing time when Spingarn canceled because of a lack of players. Taylor called around for a last-minute replacement and managed to come up with Archbishop Carroll -- the top team (currently No. 3 areawide) in the mighty Metro Conference.

At any rate, the Colts got off to an 0-3 start. Yet here they are, 5-4 overall and set to meet H.D. Woodson (8-1) for a third straight year in the league title game at Howard's Greene Stadium at 11 a.m. today. The Thanksgiving Day action also includes the Metro all-star game at Good Counsel at 11.

"We were totally unprepared to play a team like Carroll {Coolidge lost, 27-0} but we needed to play a game," Taylor said. "Then we were off another week before we lost to H.D. Woodson {14-0}.

"I had never been in a situation like this before and the losses hurt the kids psychologically.

"We hadn't scored a point in three games and had made a lot of errors," he said. "Everyone was new except for a few kids and we were starting new again, teaching the kids to tie their shoes. We have no jayvee system and, like many Interhigh teams, we were slow starters. We lost 46 kids in 1984 {4-4}, 26 in '85 {9-1} and 22 last year {9-1}. It takes a while to get kids to the level you want."

Taylor and his staff showed remarkable patience with the young team over the next six weeks and the results were handsome. The Colts won five of their last six games, including an impressive 38-0 playoff triumph over Cardozo. Tim Beck scored four times in the lopsided win.

"Mentally, physically, I feel we are ready for this game," said Coolidge's senior tailback/linebacker Sean Chisley. "The inactivity in September really hurt us. I don't think we actually started to build any real confidence until we beat McKinley {20-0}. Then we beat Cardozo Saturday and we were very sharp offensively and defensively."

Taylor and his rejuvenated band will need a concerted effort to handle Woodson and All-Met quarterback Henderson Mosley. The 6-foot-3, 207-pound senior has passed and rushed for more than 1,500 total yards and accounted for 19 touchdowns. He also plays safety, does the place kicking and snaps on punts.

"This is it, the last one. Mosley won't come off the field," Woodson Coach Bob Headen said. "Coolidge is playing much better than the first time we met, but so are we.

"I know each time we've had a week off, we came back and played lousy. But the kids know the importance of this one and this is probably the best overall team I've had. We don't have the depth but we can run, pass, play defense and our kicking game is solid."

In addition to Mosley, Woodson's numerous resources include tailback Darrell Hewlett (1,000 yards rushing, 12 touchdowns), split end Rodney Hounshell (seven touchdown catches), tackle Orlando Brown, linebacker Donald Foy and cornerback Anthony Ford.

Even Mosley was impressed with the Colts' playoff victory over Cardozo.

"They looked pretty good and I know we are not playing an average team," he said. "But we'll mix things up and stay with what works."

Coolidge has had its way with the Warriors in the past two Thanksgiving Day games, 35-6 in 1985 and 32-15 last year.

"I think that's enough motivation for us," Headen said. "I'm sort of glad they won the playoff because they did beat us the last two years. It's nice to get another shot at them."

Taylor and his players are just glad to be here again.

"We have nothing to lose," said Colts quarterback Daymon Anderson, who scored two touchdowns against Cardozo. "People have counted us out all season and we've proved them wrong. We can go out and play very loose with no pressure."