Strong-armed quarterbacks, dynamic running backs and playmaking receivers carried O'Fallon and Homewood-Flossmoor into the Class 8A playoffs.
The teams will cross paths at 7:30 p.m. Friday when the visiting Panthers (7-2) face Homewood-Flossmoor (7-2) in a first-round game that should feature plenty of offensive entertainment.
The Vikings' only two losses were to Bolingbrook, which was ranked No. 1 in Class 8A when the teams met, and (Frankfort) Lincoln-Way East, which is tied with Glenbard West atop the Class 7A rankings.
"Athletically, they'll be the best team we've played," third-year Homewood-Flossmoor coach Craig Buzea said of the Panthers. "Any time you get a kid who can throw the ball like (Todd Porter) does, you're on pins and needles all the time. And they've got some weapons that can run the ball as well.
"They're the real deal. If they're not the best team we've played, they're right up there."
Porter, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound senior, has passed for 2,182 yards and 17 touchdowns. His counterpart, 6-2, 170-pound senior Ronald Johnson of the Vikings, has thrown for 1,403 yards and 27 touchdowns --with just five interceptions. Both have completed more than 60 percent of their passes.
Homewood-Flossmoor, a member of the Southwest Suburban Conference, has four receivers with at least 12 catches, led by seniors Patrick Sheehan and Willie Ross.
"They've got balance," O'Fallon coach Brandon Joggerst said. "The quarterback is very good, the running back (senior Taje Smith) is lightning-quick and they've got some receivers who can make plays. They can score in bunches. It's going to be important that we don't give up the big play and make them earn their points."
Buzea acknowledges the success the Vikings have had through the air, particularly once Johnson, a transfer from (Orland Park) Sandburg High, comprehended the play-action system. But he said Homewood-Flossmoor's offense is rooted in the run.
"It took a while for him to acclimate to our system," Buzea said of Johnson. "Then he got red-hot, and that really helped our running game. So we don't really think of ourselves as a passing team, although we do throw the ball 15, 20 times a game. We like to run the ball and mix it up.
"Johnson does have a strong arm and he's mobile. We don't ask him to run much, but when he does, he's fairly athletic. He can make all the throws, that's for sure."
The Vikings' running game is fueled by the elusive Smith (99 carries, 678 yards, seven touchdowns).
"Taje Smith is only about 5-6, 150 pounds," Buzea said. "He's a little guy, but he's pretty powerful, pretty strong and very quick. He's hard to see behind our line. (But) he has a knack for finding the crease and making guys miss."
Freshman Kentrail Moran (5-10, 180) has carried the O'Fallon ground attack with 113 carries for 613 yards and six touchdowns.
"He's definitely improved as the season's progressed," Joggerst said. "He's a hard-working kid, a fun kid to be around. We've never had a freshman play so significant (a role). He's physically gifted; he's strong for a running back. He just fits in well."
Seniors Darius Mosely (52 catches, 815 yards, six touchdowns), an Illinois recruit, and Greg Gibson (33 catches, 438 yards, three touchdowns) lead a deep group of O'Fallon receivers that also includes sophomore Tae'Mon Franklin and junior Patrick Riley.
Today's game: O'Fallon at Homewood-Flossmoor, 7:30 p.m.
Last week: O'Fallon defeated Belleville East 33-7; Homewood-Flossmoor defeated Sandburg 21-8.
O'Fallon players to watch: QB Porter, RB Moran, WR Mosley, WR Franklin (24 catches for 287 yards, 2 TDs), WR Riley (19 catches for 307 yards, 4 TDs); DL DeWayne Hendrix (49 tackles, 4 sacks).
Homewood-Flossmoor players to watch: QB Johnson, RB Smith, WR Sheehan (27 receptions, for 353 yards, 6 TDs), TE Ross (13 catches for 303 yards, 11 TDs), OL Payson Wick, OL Devin Pitts, OL Terrance Reese.
Notes: O'Fallon will leave between 8 and 8:30 a.m. Friday, then stop at Memorial Stadium in Champaign for a 60- to- 90-minute walk-through. ... Homewood-Flossmoor is in the playoffs despite having just five returning starters. ... Quarterbacks Porter and Johnson are a combined 245-for-401 (61 percent) for 3,585 yards and 44 TDs.
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2665.