Perhaps no metro-east football team would be more satisfied with earning a state playoff berth than the O’Fallon Panthers.
Nearly out of the playoffs at 0-4, the Panthers have clawed their way back into the postseason picture with consecutive wins against Alton, Granite City, Collinsville and a 38-28 upset on the road Friday against Belleville East.
O’Fallon (4-4) has played one of the toughest schedules in the area based on the 39 wins generated by its opponents. That includes the season-opening Chicago doubleheader the first two weeks that saw the Panthers lose by a combined 82-17 to 7-1 Hinsdale Central and 6-2 Benet Academy.
“I give the kids credit for just sticking with the plan and continuing to believe in the process,” asid O’Fallon coach Brandon Joggerst, whose team was also breaking in sophomore quarterback transfer Christian Perez and dealing with several offensive line injuries. “Fortunately for the seniors’ sake they still have another week left to possibly get in. We were able to put some points on the board and generate some touchdowns, which we were struggling to do early on.
“That took some pressure off the defense and we developed a little confidence and also some continuity on the offensive line.”
Getting that elusive fifth win could be out of the Panthers’ control.
O’Fallon is scheduled to play a Southwestern Conference game at East St. Louis on Friday. The Flyers (3-5) have lost three straight games on forfeits because of the District 189 teachers strike and have been eliminated from the state playoffs.
The Flyers could return if the strike is settled soon enough, but if they don’t O’Fallon will receive a forfeit win and qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
“You’ve just got to prepare like you’re going to play,” Joggerst said. “If circumstances out of our control dictate differently, then we’ll adjust accordingly. We’re preparing to play a game Friday night.
“Last year was the first year in several years we hadn’t been in. It’s a special experience for the kids with the drama and the hype that goes along with it.”
Among area small schools, what the Wesclin Warriors have done is equally impressive.
With a 5-3 record and 38 playoff points, the Warriors likely have already secured a berth no matter what happens in their showdown against a 4-4 Carlyle squad that needs a fifth win to qualify. This is the second meeting this month between the teams; Carlyle won the Cahokia Conference game 17-7 on Oct. 2.
Wesclin was 2-7 in 2014, 0-9 in 2013 and 2-7 in 2012, so the Warriors have made up some ground under coach Ric Johns.
#618Football Playoff Projections
PLAYOFF QUALIFIERS (10)
Althoff (8-0, South Seven Conference champ), Edwardsville (8-0, Southwestern Conference champ), Triad (8-0, Mississippi Valley Conference champ), Columbia (8-0, Cahokia Conference champ), Highland (7-1), Centralia (7-1), Mater Dei (6-2), Nashville (6-2), Civic Memorial (6-2), Roxana (6-2).
PROBABLY IN (4)
Belleville East (5-3, 39 playoff points), Wesclin (5-3, 38 playoff points), Central (5-3, 36 playoff points), Marquette (5-3, 34 playoff points).
ON THE BUBBLE (4)
Carlyle (4-4, 40 playoff points, at 5-3 Wesclin), O’Fallon (4-4, 39 playoff points, at 3-5 East St. Louis), Belleville West (4-4, 38 playoff points, at 1-7 Alton), Sparta (5-3, 28 playoff points, at 2-6 Red Bud).
Note: Playoff Points are the total of each team’s opponent wins, one of several factors used in breaking ties when determining playoff qualifiers.
PROJECTED BREAKDOWN BY CLASS:
8A: Edwardsville (8-0), Belleville East (5-3), O’Fallon (4-4)
7A: Belleville West (4-4)
5A: Triad (8-0), Highland (7-1), Centralia (7-1)
4A: Althoff (8-0), Columbia (8-0), Mater Dei (6-2), Civic Memorial (6-2), Central (5-3), Marquette (5-3)
3A: Roxana (6-2), Wesclin (5-3)
2A: Nashville (6-2), Sparta (5-3), Carlyle (4-4)
After his team got out to a quick 28-7 lead against Belleville East on Friday, Joggerst turned to an offensive diet that consisted almost exclusively of handoffs to Illinois recruit Kentrail Moran.
Moran finished with 236 yards and two TDs on a whopping 40 carries to push his season totals to 1,176 yards and 11 touchdowns. He carried the ball 23 times out of the final 34 offensive plays run by the Panthers during the second half, excluding punts.
“That wasn’t necessarily the game plan going in,” Joggerst said. “But we were successful at what we were doing, plus we had the lead and were trying to grind the clock out a little bit. He ran hard and was getting positive yards.
“People know he’s going to get the ball and he’s still been able to generate a lot of offense the last few weeks.”
Dupo finds the win column
The Dupo Tigers finally buried a bothersome 10-game winning streak dating back to last season when they stunned Freeburg 27-21 on Friday in a Cahokia Conference game.
It was the first win for Dupo since a 26-6 victory over Principia on Oct. 4, 2014.
“It was really nice to see,” Dupo coach Brad Weier said. “We played with a little more emotion with Friday being Senior Night and we were able to pull one out.”
Dupo senior quarterback Drake Harvell tossed three touchdown passes and senior running back Adam Nichols contributed 177 yards rushing on 18 carries.
“We hadn’t had a conference win in two years,” Weier said. “We were very aware that Freeburg had an outside shot at getting in the playoffs. You always want to be in the playoffs yourself, but if you can be the reason another team doesn’t make it in, that’s kind of nice so (the Tigers) were definitely playing for that, too.”
Throughout the season, the Tigers would fall behind and then Weier and his staff would try to keep their heads up.
“That was something we’d been working on,” Weier said. “(Freeburg) scored about a minute into the game and I thought ‘Here we we go again,’ but for some reason it was different on Friday. I don’t know what was different, but they just decided as a group a that they were not going to get down on themselves and they were going to battle back.”’
That’s exactly what happened as Dupo built a 21-14 halftime lead and then held off the Midgets in the second half. The Tigers were leading 27-14 in the fourth quarter when Weier called for a fake punt near midfield.
Freeburg sniffed out the play, but Dupo’s defense rose to the challenge. The Midgets eventually fought back to within a touchdown.
“Our defense really stepped up after I really put them in a tough spot with the fake punt,” Weier said. “That was huge. I wish we had more games left because we’re starting to play a lot better.”
Hill continues to climb at Wyoming
Belleville West graduate Brian Hill has to have some bigger college football programs wondering “what if we had signed him” as the sophomore continues to pile up huge yardage at Wyoming.
Hill leads the Cowboys (1-6) in rushing with 985 yards and three TDs on 156 carries. That includes a 242-yard, two-TD performance Sept. 12 in a loss to Eastern Michigan.
The former West standout burst onto the scene as a freshman with a school-record day against Fresno State that included 387 all-purpose yards and 281 yards rushing. He finished his freshman year with 796 yards rushing on 145 carries.
BND High School Football Rankings
Rankings for metro-east teams; voting by area coaches and News-Democrat staff. First-place votes are in parentheses; records through last week’s action.
Large school rankings (Class 5A-8A)
Also receiving votes: East St. Louis (3-5), Highland (7-1), Collinsville (3-5), Waterloo (3-5)
Small school rankings (Class 1A-4A)
Also receiving votes: Carlyle (4-4), Wesclin (5-3), Roxana (6-2)