For a team coming off three consecutive losing seasons, Bowie's players set some lofty goals in the preseason: Get to the playoffs; Win the regional title; Advance to the state championship game. Even the Bulldogs' first-year coach thought it might be a reach.

"I saw games on the schedule I knew we could win," said Coach Jae Jackson, who previously had been an assistant coach at the school for 10 years. "But I wouldn't say the playoffs were reasonable. I thought we would have a winning record. I think the playoffs were more of an outside shot for us."

With each successive victory, however, Bowie is creating its place among the top teams in the Prince George's 4A league. The Bulldogs' latest step, a 23-18 victory over Eleanor Roosevelt, perhaps proved they have a place among the better teams in Prince George's County. Bowie can clinch its first playoff berth in four years by beating Suitland on Saturday.

Even with a loss, however, the Bulldogs (7-2, 6-2 Prince George's 4A) would have a chance to make the postseason -- something they have not done since winning the Maryland 4A title in 2001.

"People are starting to believe we can actually get there as we win more games," senior running back Jason Randall said. "A lot of people doubted us. A lot of people didn't think we were going to win seven games, that we wouldn't be a contender for the playoffs."

Led by a group of seniors, the Bulldogs rebounded from a season-opening loss to C.H. Flowers to win six consecutive games. The Bulldogs then were whipped by Douglass, but responded quickly. Randall returned the opening kickoff 72 yards for a touchdown against Roosevelt. Randall added a 65-yard touchdown run in the second quarter and Larry Gant caught a 32-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Sean Alston in the third quarter. Bowie never trailed, beating Roosevelt for just the second time since 1993.

"It was very exciting," Randall said. "I've never seen us that happy before. It felt like we won the championship when we won that game."

Patuxent's Sudden Shift

No longer is Patuxent's season a question of "What if?" Rather, it's "What's next?" for the schizophrenic Panthers.

After suffering two improbable losses in which Patuxent blew 15-point fourth-quarter leads both times, the Panthers, thinking their playoff hopes were dashed, tried a new defensive alignment and upset previously undefeated Westlake, 15-12, last week.

Now, with a victory over Northern this week, Patuxent (5-4, 5-4 SMAC) will be on the verge of making the Maryland 2A South playoffs. Last season, the Panthers overcame a 2-4 start to win four straight and make the 4A East playoffs.

"When people don't give you a shot to win a game, you go in with nothing to lose," Patuxent Coach Steve Crounse said. "It was like Hoosiers or something. Everyone ran out onto the field. Most of our kids and coaches were sobbing after the game."

The Panthers shifted to a 3-5 alignment, and blitzed on virtually every play. On the plays when 220-pound senior Philip Jack was off the field, Patuxent played with no defensive lineman over 200 pounds.

"Our kids were so excited to play that style," Crounse said, "and it showed."

Smoot Runs Wild

At 3-6 overall and 3-5 in the Howard County league, Hammond is not concerned about its playoff seeding. But the Golden Bears had their season made Saturday, thanks to senior running back B.J. Smoot.

Smoot carried 29 times for 304 yards, five touchdowns and the winning two-point conversion to lead his team to a 55-54 victory over Wilde Lake in the highest-scoring game in Howard County history.

"We've had some great players here, but after watching what B.J. did, I'd have to say he's the best we've ever had here," Coach Bill Smith said. "No matter what happened out there, he was not going to let us lose."

The Golden Bears defeated Wilde Lake for just the third time since Hammond opened in 1977. It was the Golden Bears' first victory over the Wildecats since a 16-14 win in 1993. And the previous 11 meetings hadn't been close -- Wilde Lake had won by an average of 28.1 points and shut out Hammond four times.

"We owed them for all the times they'd beaten us," Smoot said. "Our seniors weren't going to leave Hammond without beating Wilde Lake."

Smoot scored on a 55-yard run in the second quarter and on a five-yard run in the third to set up an amazing final quarter. Smoot scored three touchdowns on six-, three- and three-yard runs, then scored a two-point conversion with 1 minute 27 seconds remaining to complete a rally in which Hammond overcame a 47-33 deficit entering the final quarter.

Smoot is the school's all-time leading rusher with 3,401 yards. Hammond will finish its regular season at Oakland Mills (0-9, 0-8) on Friday.

"We're not going to the playoffs, but we want to prove that we can beat good teams," said Smoot, who has rushed for 1,489 yards and 15 touchdowns this year. "I think we showed how good a team we are by beating Wilde Lake."

With the playoffs a possibility, Patuxent's Robert McLain is drilled by running backs coach Craig Jewett.