As Wilde Lake football coach Doug DuVall sees it, the key moment in his team's quest for a playoff berth did not occur on the field.

If Wilde Lake wins its regular season finale against Mount Hebron on Saturday, finishes the regular season 9-1 and just misses qualifying for the Maryland 3A playoffs, DuVall says he will look back on Oakland Mills being forced to forfeit five games as the determining factor in the Wildecats' fate.

When Wilde Lake running back Mario Merrills scored in overtime Oct. 16 to beat Oakland Mills, 13-10, the Wildecats were in position to earn 10 power points for the victory -- five for defeating a 1A opponent and one for each of Oakland Mills' victories.

But the next week, when Oakland Mills was forced to forfeit the victories for using an ineligible player, Wilde Lake's point total for the victory was reduced to just five. (The Wildecats received one additional point last weekend when Oakland Mills beat Hammond.)

DuVall said yesterday that he plans to propose a rule change when the state football committee meets on Sunday that would allow teams to keep power points (one per victory by each opponent it beats) even if those teams are forced to forfeit victories. DuVall said he also will propose that teams using ineligible players be banned from the postseason for two years.

But the only thing that will help the Wildecats this fall is a victory over Mount Hebron coupled with a loss by Westlake, Randallstown, Fallston or Damascus. That would allow Wilde Lake, currently ninth in the power points standings (the top eight teams qualify for the playoffs) to get into the playoffs.

"It's a tough situation to be in," DuVall said. "When we found out Oakland Mills was forfeiting, it was really heartbreaking."

Even with the five forfeited points, Wilde Lake would still be ninth in the Maryland 3A standings with 83.4 points, but would be close enough to eighth-place Damascus (85.0) and seventh-place Fallston (85.4), that the Wildecats might have made the playoffs had all the teams ahead of them won. Now, though, with 78.4 points, Wilde Lake must win and have a team ahead of it lose in order to qualify.

Also hurting the Wildecats is Howard County's 10-team league, in which each team is locked into scheduling nine league games. For 3A teams like Wilde Lake, that rule hurts its power-point average because teams receive fewer points for beating opponents from lower classifications. (Howard County has two 1A teams, five 2A teams and three 3A teams.) Wilde Lake's one nonleague game was against Bel Air, a 3A team that is 4-4.

Last season, Wilde Lake squeaked into the playoffs in the final week of the season. Now, it finds itself in the same situation.

"It's tough when you don't control your own destiny," DuVall said.