BELLEVILLE — O'Fallon dropped four of its first five games this season but on Friday the Panthers celebrated their fifth consecutive regional championship.
Seniors Collin Holton and Andrew Derby scored goals and senior netminder Steve Green posted his sixth shutout as O'Fallon blanked Belleville West 2-0 to win the Class 3A Belleville West Regional.
"We knew we had a lot of stuff to work on this year," Panthers coach Jason Turkington said, recalling his team's 3-1 loss at Edwardsville on Sept. 5. "We were 1-4, but we weren't down. We weren't out because of how competitive we had been in all the games."
O'Fallon (13-8), which has six one-goal losses, will play Edwardsville or Quincy in the semifinals of the Joliet West Sectional at 6:45 p.m. Tuesday at a site to be determined.
"The guys were frustrated because they were 1-4, but they bought into it and they knew the ultimate goal was to get ready for the postseason," Turkington said. "This is a battle every year."
West lost to the Panthers for the second time this season and finished 12-9-2.
The Maroons enjoyed solid possession but were unable to be consistently dangerous in the box. West's best chance to score came in the 69th minute when senior midfielder Brent Lehr's shot from high in the box caromed off the right post.
By that point, the Maroons were already down by two. But West coach Rob Thornberry said a goal could have altered the complexion of the game and given his team some momentum.
"We had some decent chances," Thornberry said. "We won some headers in the box on dead balls, but I think our reactions were a little slow on the second ball. We put some pressure on them. I thought we had some good chances in both halves."
The Panthers scored the only goal they needed at 24 minutes, 36 seconds when Holton got free from congestion above the left post and finished past junior goalie Nate Petrekovich.
"There was so much traffic," Turkington said. "He just was composed and had a great shot. It had to be a great shot to beat the keeper, because the keeper is very solid. He made some big saves for them tonight."
Thornberry said the Maroons got caught trying to get an offsides call against O'Fallon.
"I think our guys were trying to pull an offsides trap. They just weren't together," he said. "In my mind, (Holton) is O'Fallon's best player. We gave him too much space and he buried it. He's a quality player, and he did what special players do."
Derby's goal came on a penalty kick at 32:43. Derby was in the right side of the box when he put the ball on goal, but his shot went left and ended up going out of bounds off a teammate.
Play was stopped and a tripping foul was called on the Maroons. Derby easily finished the PK, shooting inside the right post as Petrekovich broke the opposite direction.
"I'll defer that to the referee," Turkington said. "He was in position all night. Was it a PK? I have no idea. He called it.
"That goal was big because obviously they were (already) down 1-0 and were starting to make changes, starting to make adjustments."
Thornberry called the penalty kick "a tough one."
"It was a hard play," he said. "The kid (Derby) got the shot off and ended up on the ground. You've got to wonder: Was it worth giving him a (PK) on that?"
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at email@example.com or 239-2665.