Howard running back Gerald Smith, who has unofficially committed to play cornerback at Penn State next year, showed why he would also like to get a chance to play running back.

Smith, a 5-foot-9, 175-pound senior, broke off a 79-yard touchdown run in the third quarter as Howard defeated River Hill, 17-7, yesterday in Clarksville and clinched its first Maryland 2A playoff berth since 1993. The Lions will host Hereford next week.

Howard also earned a share of the Howard County title with three-time defending champion Wilde Lake, which defeated Mount Hebron, 17-7. The Lions (9-1, 8-1) will enter the playoffs after finishing 6-4, 5-5 and 3-7 the past three seasons.

Trialing 7-3 in the third quarter, Smith took a pitchout on third and nine, swept right and sped untouched down the right sideline to the end zone, putting Howard ahead 10-7.

"I just cut up outside, saw daylight, and I was gone," said Smith, who finished with 162 yards on 14 carries.

"Gerald doesn't need much daylight," Howard Coach Vince Parnell said. "He got the crack, and just went from there."

Smith also had nine tackles, despite a swollen left knee that required him to stretch every time he returned to the sideline.

EASTERN 18, H.D. WOODSON 6: Senior running back Lawrence Wade, the District public schools leading rusher, ran for 177 yards and a touchdown to lead the Ramblers to their second consecutive D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association East title with a victory over the 15th-ranked Warriors in Northeast.

Eastern (8-3) ended the season 5-0 in the league for the second straight year. H.D. Woodson suffered its first league defeat and finished 8-1, 4-1.

"This was a very hard and emotional game, but this was a huge win," Eastern Coach Burnell Irby said.

Eastern will play Wilson next Saturday in a playoff at Cardozo High. H.D. Woodson will open against defending champion Dunbar, also at Cardozo.

The Ramblers put the game away early. Wade scored on a 14-yard run and Jason Godfrey added a three-yard touchdown run to give Eastern a 12-0 advantage after one quarter.

Defensively, Eastern was led by junior middle linebacker Leonard Loftin, who had 14 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.

SUITLAND 7, NORTHWESTERN 0: Suitland Coach Nick Lynch told his players a little white lie before the Prince George's 4A game against Northwestern at High Point in Beltsville.

"I told them that whoever wins gets into the playoffs," Lynch said. "They have to be hungry. They have to have that sense of urgency."

Indeed, Northwestern (6-4, 4-4), which shared the 4A county title with Suitland last season, needed a victory to advance to the playoffs for the second consecutive year. But No. 18 Suitland (8-2, 8-0) already had clinched a 4A playoff berth before yesterday's game. The victory over the Wildcats gave Suitland its third consecutive county title. They will play No. 16 Severna Park when the playoffs begin next weekend.

Sophomore quarterback Duane Smith scored the game's lone touchdown on a one-yard run with one second remaining in the third quarter. The Rams defense held tough against Northwestern, forcing three turnovers. Suitland's scoring drive was set up by an interception, and the Rams stopped Northwestern's final drive when junior linebacker Steven Marsh intercepted Marcos Moreno's pass.

LAUREL 27, OXON HILL 0: Led by running back Devin Smith, who rushed for 123 yards and a touchdown, the Spartans ended their 20-game losing streak dating from 1997 in a Prince George's 4A contest in Laurel.

After Laurel's defense stopped the Clippers (3-7, 3-5) on their opening drive, Covington provided Laurel (1-9, 1-7) with the only points it would need when he scored on a six-yard touchdown run.

Staff writer Camille Powell and special correspondent Jon Gallo contributed to this report.