If the O'Fallon Panthers hope to advance in the Class 8A football playoffs, it may come down to never letting acrobatic Neuqua Valley receiver Mikey Dudek out of their sight.
The University of Illinois recruit is capable of scoring whenever he touches the ball, no matter where he is on the field. The top receiver for the fourth-ranked Wildcats (8-1), the 5-foot-11, 180-pound speedster is also a threat to score as a running back and on kickoff returns.
"They definitely want to get him the ball a lot and he's made some electrifying plays throughout the year," O'Fallon coach Brandon Joggerst said. "He's just very explosive with great quickness. He's not a big kid by any stretch, but he runs hard and makes people miss."
Friday's Class 8A first-round game: O'Fallon (5-4) at Neuqua Valley (7-1) in Naperville, 7 p.m.
Scouting the Wildcats: Neuqua Valley won its second straight Upstate Eight Conference title with a 34-20 victory last Friday over Bartlett and is coming off a 12-1 season in 2012.
Star quarterback Broc Rutter was injured while throwing a first-half interception against Bartlett, but coach Bill Ellinghaus told a reporter this week that Rutter "was OK."
The offense revolves around Dudek, Rutter and running backs Nolan Dean and T.J. Scruggs.
"They put up a lot of points, that's been there all year -- and with a lot of big plays," Joggerst said. "We've got to definitely limit their big-play capability. They've given up some points, too, so we've got to take advantage of that."
Neuqua Valley was rocked 58-35 by Naperville Central on Sept. 6, but the Wildcats have not been held below 34 points all season.
Only four teams on their schedule had winning records.
Looking for consistency: O'Fallon has been all over the map this season, giving 8A power (Aurora) Waubonsie Valley a tough game and also knocking off East St. Louis on the road.
However, the Panthers lost at home to Belleville West and on the road to Belleville East and have struggled at times with turnovers, penalties and bad decisions.
"I think trying to be consistent is the key offensively and defensively, stay away from the negative plays and turnovers," Joggerst said. "When we have done those things, we've been pretty good."
O'Fallon star defensive end and Tennessee recruit Dewayne Hendrix helps lead a defense that will have to be at its best to slow down Neuqua Valley's prolific offense.
"We may have a little bit of an advantage in overall team speed, but they definitely have some size and some big-time athletes," Joggerst said.
On the road again: O'Fallon may be looking forward to the five-hour hour trip north given its road playoff success in recent years.
The Panthers knocked off Homewood-Flossmoor on the road last year and also own solid road victories over (New Lenox) Lincoln-Way Central and Pekin.
"Our kids are aware of that," Joggerst said. "I don't think they're going up there wide-eyed by any means."
O'Fallon players to watch: DE Dewayne Hendrix (53 tackles, 6 sacks); WR Tae'Mon Franklin (42 catches, 669 yards, 8 TDs); QB Camden Bauer (162-of-277, 1,888 yards, 17 TDs, 14 Ints.); RB Kentrail Moran (204 carries, 1,070 yards, 8 TDs; 21 catches, 125 yards); WR-DB Klayton Gettis (49 catches, 544 yards, 5 TDs; 18 tackles); LB Marques Cooper (49 tackles, 1 sack, 2 Ints.).
Neuqua Valley players to watch: WR Mikey Dudek (49 catches, 1,025 yards, 15 TDs; 22 carries, 236 yards, 3 TDs; 18 kickoff returns for a 35-yard average and 2 TDs); QB Broc Rutter (81-of-115, 1,544 yards, 24 TDs, 3 Ints.); RB Nolan Dean (89 carries, 811 yards, 13 TDs); DL Godfrey Collins.