O'FALLON, Ill. — High school football teams across the Metro East continue to leave it all on the field every Friday night, with only two games to go for most teams participating in the spring season.
On Friday, O’Fallon Township will host the Edwardsville Tigers in one of the most competitive games in the Southwestern conference.
For the Panthers, this game is everything.
“This Edwardsville game is probably one of the most important games every year,” O’Fallon head football coach Byron Gettis said. “You know, Michigan and Ohio State, or Alabama-Auburn. You know this is the game. We’re going into it with that mindset.”
O’Fallon won its first game of the spring season against Belleville East on March 19, before having to forfeit the next two games because of COVID-19-related issues.
Gettis said the Illinois High School Association allowed the Panthers to virtually condition as a team at home during the two-week quarantine, in order to resume competition on April 10.
“It wasn’t if someone was gonna test positive, it was just when,” Gettis said. “Once we got the news, it was a bummer for a lot of our guys, but we knew it was gonna happen. We didn’t even know if we were gonna play East St. Louis because we were coming back on a Tuesday. But the state pushed the game back and said if we do something over the break, conditional or whatever, then we’d be fine. So we basically conditioned over the break. We were sending Zoom meetings where we were doing burpees and jumping jacks, and so the guys got a kick out of that.”
The Panthers would return to face the East St. Louis Flyers on April 10, who were 17-0 heading into the game.
O’Fallon handed the Flyers their first loss since November 2019, with a 28-19 victory. Gettis said the win speaks to the character of this group of O’Fallon athletes.
“They’re dedicated,” Gettis said. “Hard-working kids. I always talk to them about coming together as a family and understanding that there’s a bigger picture than just football.”
Now the Panthers have another tough battle against the Tigers (3-1), who have only suffered a loss this season to the Flyers.
“We win a game in preparation,” Gettis said. “So getting our minds right. It doesn’t start on Friday. It started on Monday in film. Just the little details.”
Unlike the Panthers who have 23 seniors, the Tigers are rolling with a much younger group. Edwardsville head coach Matt Martin said the season has been full of injuries compared to years past.
“We’ve played three different quarterbacks at times,” Martin said. “We’ve played two running backs, multiple offensive linemen. I don’t know if we’ve had the same roster week in and week out. Gives kids an opportunity to perform, and everybody has to be at their best and ready to play.”
On top of a handful of injuries, Edwardsville also experienced a decrease in football participation this season due to a multitude of reasons with games being played in the spring rather than fall season.
Martin said it hasn’t been an easy journey to get here, but he’s proud of how underclassmen players have stepped up into bigger roles when called on to do so.
“Ya know, with each game, with each practice they are getting more confident,” Martin said. “They’re getting better. They’re understanding the expectations. Just because you’re young, no other team is going to feel sorry for you. They want to beat Edwardsville, and we get that. That’s part of when you’ve had success year in and year out, you’re going to get everybody’s best game.”
Martin added that although Illinois teams won’t experience playoff football this season, the Tigers are treating every game like their last.
Kickoff is at O’Fallon Township High School at 7 p.m.