Wilde Lake football coach Doug DuVall smiled when he remembered that in 1997 his team scored just 19 points in three playoff games after averaging 38.5 points per game in the regular season. DuVall had reason to smile. The Wildecats won the Maryland 3A state title that year.

It was defense that led the Wildecats to the title. Despite having just one starter who weighed more than 200 pounds, Wilde Lake gave up six points in the playoffs and recorded shutouts in the semifinal and final.

"Anytime you get to the state playoffs you will see a decline in offensive performance," said DuVall, whose teams have won four state titles this decade. "The defenses are much better than the ones you see during the regular season."

That likely will hold true for the Wildecats in their 3A quarterfinal Friday against top-ranked Seneca Valley. The Screamin' Eagles have won a record 10 state titles and 30 of 36 playoff games (83 percent). In 18 of those games, Seneca Valley has given up seven points or less, including 11 shutouts.

In Northern Virginia, perhaps the best postseason defensive performances have come from T.C. Williams in Alexandria. In winning the AAA title in 1984, the Titans outscored four playoff opponents 71-7. In 1971, the Titans outscored three playoff opponents 91-14, including a 27-0 victory over Andrew Lewis of Salem in the title game in which the Titans gave up two first downs.

When Annandale won AAA titles in 1978 and 1994, the Atoms recorded shutouts in the region semifinal, region final and state semifinal. But the 1978 team needed a late touchdown to defeat Highland Springs, 14-13, in the title game. The 1994 team won the state title with a 47-41 overtime victory over George Washington of Danville.

"Having a great defense really takes the pressure off your offense," said Annandale Coach Dick Adams, who coached the 1994 team. "I will tell you one thing. In 15 or 20 years of coaching, I have not seen many state title winners who did not play great defense."