Psychiatrically speaking, Potomac's football team has a split personality.

In less than a year, the Dumfries-based Panthers have been dramatically different from last year's Virginia state finalist.

But no matter. This year's team, although not as flashy, is plugging along at a better rate with a 12-0 record, and now finds itself atop The Washington Post's Top 20 rankings.

A year ago, with quarterback B.J. Hawkins (now at Notre Dame), running back Sean Wright (St. Augustine's, N.C.), and wide receiver Michael Wardlaw (Valley Forge Prep), the Panthers had one of the most feared big-play offenses.

But with their graduation, most wrote off Potomac as a good team with a good defense.

Check that; a great defense. Behind the incisive defensive schemes of Coach Bill Brown, the Panthers now are preparing for the Class AAA Division 5 semifinals. They will play at Varina of Richmond Saturday at 1:30.

"Before the season began," said Brown, "I felt like we had a real good defense. We had several players with 14 games experience the year before . . . and we had some good guys on offense. I thought if our defense could keep us close, we could win."

Collectively, twins Keith and Kevin McAfee, Kevin Lewis and C.J. Morgan are arguably the best linebacking unit in the state and are feared by opposing teams more than last year's three threats.

All are 6 feet, 195 pounds and can run well. "We try to play very physical," said Brown. "They are all big hitters. But all of these guys can run. We pursue so well that we get a lot of people to the football."

In Brown's defensive system, he always lines his defensive linemen in gaps, and positions Lewis over the extra offensive lineman. That frees Keith McAfee, who hides behind a defensive lineman before usually delivering a trembling hit.

The defense is so overwhelming that it limited Heritage's two highly regarded running backs, J.T. Morris and Chris Parker, who had combined to rush for more than 3,100 yards, to a total of 146 yards in last week's 14-3 Potomac victory in the region final. A week earlier the Panthers held E.C. Glass's Vince Williams to 15 yards.

Potomac allowed only 62 points and kept the Panthers close in many games. Keith McAfee recorded 114 tackles, 7 sacks and 2 interceptions, enough to earn the Commonwealth District's defensive player-of-the-year award.

Along with brother Kevin and defensive tackle Stan Carmichael, he also received all-Northwestern Region honors and has been nominated for all-state awards.

But Brown insists that although Kevin Lewis wasn't named to the all-district team, he is just as talented as the McAfees. He has 96 tackles, 3 interceptions -- two returned for touchdowns -- and 6 sacks.

"I was a little upset at first," said Lewis, "but I'm happy for my teammates and my team because I didn't think we'd make it this far."

Offensively, quarterback Gilbert Telleria has taken Hawkins's spot.

Telleria is only 5-9 and that was reason enough for Brown to discard last season's offense and take on an option-type attack that allows Telleria to hide behind the line.

Telleria doesn't have Hawkins's physical abilities, but he makes up for it in other ways. The day before the game against E.C. Glass he dislocated his thumb on the last play of practice.

Sitting out the first quarter with a heavily taped hand, Telleria saw his team struggling and dashed onto the field. "He couldn't stand it any longer," said Brown. "He didn't even ask me. He just ran in."

He threw a wobbly six-yard touchdown pass just before halftime to draw his team close, and then helped Potomac win in the final seconds.

Brown leaves it up to the linebackers, except Lewis, to alternate at the fullback position. "Whenever one needs to be spelled, he comes out and another comes in," Brown said.