The best-kept secret in Washington high school football is hidden in a small Catholic school in Laurel. The Panthers of Pallotti, after a 19-0 victory over Hammond last weekend, have won 15 consecutive games, and haven't lost in 19.

The lack of celebrity is just fine with Sister Karen Lester, the school's athletic director.

"We haven't reached a point where we feel football is that important, and we don't want to get to that point," she said. "Our team has been successful but we don't want the kids to feel any pressure about winning. We have this winning streak and that is nice, but no one around here is talking about it that much; maybe we don't want to jinx ourselves. The coaches haven't said much to the kids and most people didn't even know we had won 14 straight until last week.

"Young people don't dwell on statistics that much, at least our kids don't," she added. "Besides, this is another team. Most of these players didn't have anything to do with the streak, and I think that is a healthy way to look at it."

Pallotti, winner of the now-extinct Tri-County League in 1989, is playing an independent schedule this season. The school has applied for membership in a small private school league composed mainly of Baltimore City schools.

Pallotti, which plays Howard High School this Saturday at Bowie State, has won 38 of its last 40 games. Home games are played at either Bowie State or Paint Branch High School. The practice field, located about a mile from Pallotti, belongs to Prince George's County, which cuts the grass once a month; the rest of the maintenance is provided by coaches, teachers and parents.

"Football brings people out of the corners; parents want to help out," Lester said. "We have a baseball field, soccer and football field there. Bowie State has been very gracious about letting us use their field for our games. And our coaches work for free. If we had to pay them a salary, we might not have a team."

First-year coach Warren Hall said "the wives get a little ticked off" about the long hours of volunteer work, but he and his five assistants are having the time of their lives.

"The guys love it. We were all assistants under Stu Mackintosh, who really built this program, and we have been together for a while," Hall said. "We only have about 55-60 kids on varsity and JV but they work hard. And, in the back of their minds, they finally realize they are being recognized for their achievements.

Among the biggest contributors are tackle Matt Evers, receiver-defensive back Jeff Warren, receiver-linebacker Kyle Hammersmith, running back-linebacker Scott Sakeld, running back-linebacker David Radziewicz and quarterback Jason Boseck.

"Our largest {starter} is Matt Evers {6 feet 1, 220 pounds} and most of our kids have to go both ways. We know our limitations. A lot of our kids are small and wouldn't be playing at the High Points and DeMathas. But Stu would tell the kids, 'If you have heart, you can play at Pallotti.' And he built this program on heart and hard work."

Hall was asked to take Mackintosh's place after the former coach took a leave of absence in June. Mackintosh was indicted on one count of child abuse for an alleged incident nearly 10 years ago when he coached youth football. His trial in Montgomery County circuit court is scheduled for next month.

"I have no illusions of grandeur about being a head coach," Hall said. "We are hoping Stu comes back. He coached me when I was a young player and everyone around here looks up to him. We would welcome him back."

Sister Karen echoed Hall's thoughts. "He did not resign, he took a leave of absence," she said. "Yes, he can come back if he wants to."

Meanwhile, Hall is hoping his team laden with sophomores and juniors can continue to play aggressive, tough football. The schedule is harder than in the past, and every opponent is looking to break the winning streak.

"Honestly, we just want to have a winning season. The fellows know every time we go out there, we have to fight extra hard because everyone wants to beat us," Hall said. "We felt extra good about winning the opener because we didn't know who we were yet. Now, we start over again."