East St. Louis vs. O'Fallon. The Southwestern Conference's 2012 version of "Clash of the Titans" is finally here.
Riding a three-game winning streak and ranked eighth in the Associated Press Class 7A state poll, East St. Louis will invade O'Fallon to take on the undefeated Panthers -- ranked fifth in Class 8A -- with first place in the Southwestern Conference on the line.
For fans of Southern Illinois large school football, it doesn't get any better.
But for coaches Brandon Joggerst, of O'Fallon, and East St. Louis coach Darren Sunkett, it's just game six of a nine-game regular season.
"I'm sure people outside our program may have this date circled on their calendar for a game they'd like to see," Joggerst said. "But inside our program, we treat it as just another game as far as preparation. It's a game that makes us playoff eligible. That would be the main goal."
The game will feature a balanced O'Fallon squad, which has been the top large-school team in the metro-east all season, against a Flyers team that has allowed just 13 points per game on defense, but is still looking for consistency on offense.
The Flyers, getting two touchdowns apiece from running backs Kendrick Lewis and Cameron Donnaby, had their finest offensive effort of the year last week in a 44-7 win over Collinsville.
"They haven't been as efficient on offense as I'm sure their coaching staff would have liked," Joggerst said of the Flyers. "But they've always had good athletes and speed and Darren does a great job of getting his kids ready to play. Their size up front is a concern for us."
O'Fallon, is coming off a 35-19 win over Granite City. The Panthers got a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes from quarterback Todd Porter to Illinois recruit Darius Mosely, as well as a career high 173 yards rushing from freshman running back Kentrail Moran, to rally past the fired-up Warriors.
Moran, a two-way starter, will concentrate on just running back the rest of the season.
Sunkett knows stopping O'Fallon's offense will be a major challenge.
"Our defense has done a great job for us all year," Sunkett said. "But O'Fallon's got a lot of weapons and we've got to try and slow them down."
One person O'Fallon won't have to worry about is Flyers sophomore running back Natreace Strong. Out for the past few weeks with a knee injury, Strong had surgery earlier this week and will miss at least two or three more games.
"We're not going to rush him or push him. We want Natreace healthy when he does come back," Sunkett said. "Our goal is to have him ready for the first week of the playoffs. If it's sooner, great."
Today's game: East St. Louis (3-2, 3-0) at O'Fallon (5-0, 3-0), 7 p.m.
Last meeting: East St. Louis defeated O'Fallon 23-22 last year.
East St. Louis players to watch: QB Demus Jones (47-for-127, 704 yards, 5 TDs, 4 Int.); RB Kendrick Lewis (57 carries for 215 yards, 2 TDs); RB Cameron Donnaby (14 carries for 189 yards, 2 TDs); WR Daniel Williams (15 catches, 221 yards, 2 TDs); LB Kryon Watson (51 tackles, 38 solos, 1 Int, 1 fumble recovery); DL Julius Jackson (44 tackles, 25 solos, 3 sacks).
O'Fallon players to watch: QB Todd Porter (72-for-111, 1,137 yards, 8 TDs, 2 Int.); RB Kentrail Moran (52 carries for 283 yards, 3 TDs); WR Darius Mosely (24 receptions for 496 yards, 4 TDs); WR Greg Gibson (17 catches for 273 yards, 3 TDs); DL Johnny Little (28 tackles, 27 solos, 3 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries); DL Tyrus Brothers (23 tackles, 20 solos, 4 sacks).
Notes: Both the Panthers and Flyers have major tests in the final three weeks of the regular season. O'Fallon will host Collinsville (Oct. 5) and Belleville East (Oct. 19), but must travel to Edwardsville (Oct. 12), while East St. Louis plays at Granite City (Oct. 5) and closes at home with Belleville West (Oct. 12) and Alton (Oct. 19) ... The Flyers are 3-1 in their last four meetings against O'Fallon, outscoring the Panthers 131-37. O'Fallon's win came in 2010, a 2-0 forfeit victory.