In the span of a few months, Cahokia High School has gone from potentially losing all of its athletic programs to being one win away from a South Seven Conference football championship.
Just 3-4 overall, the Comanches are 3-1 in the South Seven Conference heading into Friday's home game against Althoff (3-4, 2-2).
The Cahokia school district announced earlier this year that the school's athletics program would be eliminated because of budget concerns. But in June, the school board decided to close three schools and reinstate sports, music, art and physical education.
The Comanches sports teams were back in business.
"When the season started, we lost a lot of folks for a lot of reasons," said Cahokia coach Antwyne Golliday, who estimated the Comanches lost seven football starters to transfers and three more because of ineligibility.
"It was kind of rough as a staff because when they said they weren't going to have sports, a lot of kids left. They didn't hire me as the head coach until the end of July. My staff didn't get hired until right before we played Marion, so we had already played three games."
After losing its first three games to O'Fallon (40-12), Alton (28-8) and Miller Career Academy (30-13), the Comanches suddenly caught fire.
They opened South Seven play with a 28-21 victory over Marion, then lost 28-20 at Carbondale before following that up with league victories over Centralia (28-6) and Mount Vernon (45-32).
"We had guys out of position, we just had to find a combination that worked," Golliday said. "We looked better every week, but we were losing. Once we beat Marion, the whole atmosphere just changed. You weren't hearing all these excuses and they started believing"
Golliday's fun message to the squad each week was "We're gonna fool somebody."
In the Mount Vernon win last Friday, senior Keenan Hogan ran the ball 13 times and racked up 235 yards and four TDs. That included TD runs of 55 and 62 yards.
In the last four games, Hogan has 676 yards and 10 TDs on 56 carries.
Keveion Akins had 113 yards rushing and three TDs. Akins had an 82-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and an 80-yard TD run.
The Comanches ran for 527 yards on 42 carries and each week have looked better and better, according to Golliday.
On Friday they play host to Althoff (3-4) looking to nail down at least a share of the South Seven championship.
"We ended up putting a team together and it started coming around right around the conference time," Golliday said. "We just kept rotating guys in and around, for the first four weeks we had four different lineups. I couldn't tell the kids we were going to go 0-9.
"I didn't believe it -- and they didn't believe it either."
Among the changes made by the coaches were moving Darby Perry from quarterback to tight end and using Korrion Session at quarterback.
Hogan, who had 744 yards and 12 TDs on 71 carries overall, became the focal point of the running game along with fullback Robert Mosby (290 yards, one TD) and Akins.
A quick, aggressive defense has been led by defensive end Marcell Scurlark (42 tackles, 10 sacks), Romeion Moore (43 tackles, two sacks), Mosby (four sacks) and Chris Griggs.
Tigers QB shattering records
In his first year as the Edwardsville starting quarterback, junior Dan Marinko has led his state-ranked team to seven straight wins.
He's also taken down two impressive school records for single-season passing yardage and single-season touchdowns.
Marinko's 23-for-39 performance Friday in a 42-14 Southwestern Conference victory over Edwardsville netted him 453 yards and four more TDs.
On the season he's completed 113-of-165 passes (70 percent) for 1,890 yards and 22 TDs. He's also the Tigers' top rusher with 288 yards and seven TDs on 39 carries.
While Marinko has been impressive, he's had plenty of help. It starts with a strong and mobile offensive line that gives him time to throw.
He also has three of the area's top receivers in senior Darius Crochrell (26 catches, 527 yards, 10 TDs) and juniors Isaiah Michl (25 catches, 514 yards, 7 TDs) and Fontez Davis (25 catches, 382 yards, 2 TDs).
Edwardsville's two remaining conference games are both at home, against Granite City (2-5) on Friday and Oct. 25 against Belleville East (3-4).
Highland (7-0) wrapped up its first Mississippi Valley Conference championship since 1989 on Friday and is one of five area teams to already wrap up state playoff berths.
The others are Edwardsville (7-0) and Belleville West (6-1) in the Southwestern Conference, Cahokia Conference champ Columbia (7-0) and Cahokia Conference runner-up Carlyle (6-1)