High School Football

Cahokia holds off late O’Fallon comeback for narrow non-conference win

The Cahokia Comanches defense refused to break Friday at O’Fallon High School. .

Junior defensive end Shawn Binford returned a fumble 90 yards for a touchdown with just over six minutes remaining and the Comanches defense held off the Panthers late rally for a 28-21 win.

Looking to end its season on a positive note, O’Fallon (3-6) cut an 11-point halftime deficit to 20-18 on an 8-yard scoring run by Mason Blakemore and the second of three field goals by junior Ian Wagner.

O’Fallon was then on the verge of taking the lead midway through the fourth quarter when the Comanches defense came up with the play of the night. With the football inside the Cahokia 15-yard line, Panthers quarterback Ty Michael fumbled while getting tackled.

Binford scooped up the loose ball and with a convoy of Comanches leading the way, he ran untouched for the eventual game-winning touchdown.

“Our defense bent but didn’t break all night,” Comanches coach John Clay said. “That was a huge play and turning point.”

But O’Fallon didn’t quit. Wagner, who had kicked field goals of 40 and 22 yards, made good from 23 yards with less than three minutes remaining to cut the Cahokia lead to 28-21.

Getting the ball back one last time with under a minute left, Michael drove the Panthers inside the Comanches 30-yard line. But a desperation pass was broken up by the Comanches defense in the end zone as time ran out.

“We knew it would be a close game. It was last year and we knew coming in that O’Fallon was a good football team,” Clay said. “I thought we played well in the first half. The second half we made too many mistakes. We have some things to clean up before we start the playoffs.”

CahokIa (7-2), which reached the Class 5A quarterfinals a year ago, will be one of 256 schools who will learn their playoff fate Saturday when the Illinois High School Association releases its first round field in eight classes. One of the top Class 5A schools in the state all season, the Comanches could drop to the Class 4A field, pending results Friday.

“I guess we’ll find out Saturday night,” Clay said with a smile.

While Cahokia prepares for next week, O’Fallon will look ahead to a promising future under coach Byron Gettis. With Cahokia quarterback Chris Bradley completing 14 of 21 passes for 211 yards and three touchdowns, Cahokia had all the momentum in the first half. But O’Fallon didn’t quit.

On all five of their possessions in the second half, the Panthers moved the ball at will while wearing down the Cahokia defense with its no-huddle offense.

“It’s kind of been the story of our season. We had opportunities, but we would make mistakes or turn the football over,” Gettis said. “But when you are a young football team you’re going to make mistakes.

“Hopefully we’ve learned from all of our mistakes and we’ll learn from them and we’ll be a better football team next year.”

Dean Criddle has worked at the Belleville News-Democrat for 32 years as a sports writer. Dean graduated from SIUE with a double major in journalism and English, is married and lives in Belleville.