Belleville East football coach Tim Funk has believed in his team all along, but Funk may have to smile and take a deep breath when remembering certain times of the 2013 season.
"We've had some goofy things happen to us this year and I can't really explain it, but it's been an interesting year to say the least," said Funk, whose team is 3-4 overall and 2-2 in the Southwestern Conference.
Saturday's game: O'Fallon (4-3) at Belleville East (3-4), 1 p.m.
Funk on East running back Brandon Mason: One of those "certain times" was losing Mason, their top running back, early in season to a broken leg. Mason has suffered fractures to both legs during his Lancers' career, but has been making up for lost time.
East had lost three straight before riding a 236-yard rushing performance and three touchdowns by Mason last Friday in a 35-22 conference victory over Granite City.
"He's fought back from both situations and just plays his tail off," Funk said of Mason, an all-SWC pick as a junior. "He's a warrior and has done a good job for us without being 100 percent healthy."
At stake for Panthers: O'Fallon is looking to regain some swagger following a 42-14 loss to likely conference champion Edwardsville.
"Ideally we'd like to get our run game going a little bit more and a lot of it's being consistent and stringing some positive plays together," said O'Fallon coach Brandon Joggerst, whose team will clinch a state playoff berth with one more win.
What to watch for: O'Fallon has one of the area's top passing attacks led by sophomore quarterback Camden Bauer and receivers Tae'Mon Franklin and Klayton Gettis.
Look for Belleville East to give the Panthers a big dose of Mason on offense, trying to pound things out behind its big offensive line.
"They've got (Mason) back and he's a special-type talent," Joggerst said. "You've got to contain him and have a bunch of people around him because he's hard to tackle one-on-one."
Changes for East: Sophomore Andrew Millas has taken over as East's starting quarterback. Millas has completed 12-of-32 passes for 98 yards and one TD with two interceptions.
"Even last year as a freshman I knew he was going to be a good player," Funk said. "In the sophomore games, he was doing a good job, throwing for a lot of yards. ... We've been playing lots of different guys on both sides of the ball trying to find the right mix. The one positive thing is a lot of guys are getting an opportunity to play."
Funk on O'Fallon's versatile talent mix: "They've just got athletes everywhere. It's not just in the skill positions either, they're line is athletic. They're big and they're fast."
O'Fallon players to watch: DL Dewayne Hendrix (40 tackles, 6 sacks); WR Tae'Mon Franklin (35 catches, 631 yards, 8 TDs); WR Klayton Gettis (41 catches, 406 yards, 5 TDs); QB Camden Bauer (122-218, 1,454 yards, 14 TDs, 12 ints.); RB Kentrail Moran (153 carries, 797 yards, 2 TDs; 18 catches, 106 yards).
East players to watch: RB Brandon Mason (71 carries, 367 yards, 4 TDs); RB-DB Demarius Ward (78 carries, 382 yards, 3 TDs; 26 tackles, 2 ints.); WR Josiah Bergt (14 catches, 116 yards, 2 TDs); DL Jeff Brown OL-DL (51 tackles, 1 sack); LB Markee Thompson (69 tackles).