The O'Fallon Panthers entered the season-opening Granite City Invitational as the top-ranked Class 3A cross country team in the state by Dyestat.com and with a large target on their back.
On a hot, steamy Saturday morning at Granite City High School, the Edwardsville Tigers nearly knocked off that target.
O'Fallon junior Dorrian Gordon came within an eyelash of breaking 15 minutes to breeze to the individual championship and four other Panthers placed in the top 20 as it captured the team title.
Still, O'Fallon and Edwardsville, which got a third-place finish from Brydon Groves-Scott, tied for first with 53 points. But because Gordon won the race, O'Fallon also took team honors.
"We knew Edwardsville was going to be good. We just didn't know they would be this good. This should really open up some eyes around the state,'' Panthers coach Jon Burnett said. "Edwardsville will be a real force this fall.''
Gordon finished the 3-mile course in 15 minutes, 1 second, 36 seconds faster than Mascoutah freshman Noah Affolder and 37 seconds faster than Groves-Scott.
O'Fallon's Steven Chorma was fourth, while Mount Vernon junior David Modert rounded out the top five individuals.
O'Fallon senior Patrick Perrier, one of the top cross country runners in the Midwest, did not compete because he was on a recruiting visit to the University of Wisconsin.
But Gordon took over.
"I don't think anybody realizes the amount of work that Dorrian put in this summer,'' Burnett said. "We knew Dorrian was this good. Soon, the rest of the state will know exactly how good he is.''
Edwardsville also got a seventh-place finish from sophomore Ethan Townzen.
Mount Vernon (121 points), Waterloo (143) and Chatham-Glenwood (174) rounded out the top five teams.
O'Fallon girls romp
Seniors Sydney Neal and Samantha Lapp, along with junior Tami Cardenas, finished third, fourth and fifth as O'Fallon romped to a 52-point win over Edwardsville in the girls competition at Granite City High School.
Highland sophomore Allison Zobrist won the meet with a time of 18:27 over the 3-mile course, while Edwardsville senior Allie Sweatt was second in 18:38.
O'Fallon, ranked sixth in the Dyestat.com Class 8A poll, captured four of the next five places as Neal (18:45), Lapp (18:48) and Cardenas (18:57) led the way.
Highland senior Emily Holtzclaw (18:57) was sixth while a fourth O'Fallon runner, Angela Buch, placed seventh in 19:01.
O'Fallon coach Neil James liked what he saw from his Panthers.
"I thought the girls ran really well for our first meet,'' James said. "Our one through four time split was 16 seconds and our one through five split was 38 seconds, which is right where we wanted it.
"Every girl on the varsity ran faster than they did last year, so I'm very pleased with the times.''
O'Fallon finished with 28 points to defeat Edwardsville (80). Chatham Glenwood (112), Highland (123) and Springfield (129) closed out the top five.