In the first four weeks of the season, the Panthers have plowed through the likes of Plainfield Central, Minooka, Plainfield North and Joliet West. The biggest win of the season was the game two weeks ago against Plainfield North, the only conference opponent to defeat the Panthers in the past three years.
Through those four weeks, the Panthers have shown some strengths, some weaknesses and a few unknowns.
Strength: Charles Coleman
Senior running back Charles Coleman has carried the team through the running game, averaging 108 yards per game. The college prospect’s hard work has been evident through the first four weeks of the season, and I’d expect his dominance to continue through the conference schedule for the Panthers.
The Panthers have really only shown one viable weapon in the run game through the first three weeks, that weapon obviously being Coleman. The next leading rusher in terms of yards per game is junior RB Charles Laird, at a staggering 26.0 YPG. The Panthers need to find another threat out of the backfield in the event of an injury to Coleman, or if a team finds a way to shut down Coleman, the Panthers are going to need another option.
We saw this when the Plainfield North defensive line shut Coleman down through the first quarter and a half. Coach Brian Cooney eventually made an adjustment and started to use plays based off the outside zone, as opposed to running it straight into the line.
These adjustments may work now during Southern Prairie Conference play, a conference the Panthers have won for eight years in a row, but once playoff football rolls around, the Panthers are going to need more than one threat out of the backfield, even if our number-one option is being scouted by Division 1 schools.
Passing/ Receiving Game
Strengths: Jamal Fomby Jr.
Senior wide receiver Jamal Fomby has been nothing short of spectacular through the first three weeks of the season. Fomby has averaged 100.0 YPG receiving, which leads the Panthers, and has six touchdowns. This number would probably be higher if it weren’t for Cooney’s high dependence on the run game. Nevertheless, Fomby’s efforts have helped elevate the Panthers to their four wins, and he is a huge strength in this Panther offense.
The Panthers’ receiving corps is thin to say the least. Senior quarterback Noah Parker has completed passes to only five receivers through three weeks, and 55.9 percent (19-34) of those passes have been caught by Fomby. However, over the past three weeks, junior Jack Lemke has emerged as another threat opponents have to game-plan for. He is averaging 44.3 YPG receiving, with two touchdowns on the year. However, Lemke only has five receptions through three weeks, and a big chunk of his total yards for the season (44.1 percent) came on a 78-yard touchdown against Plainfield North. As the Panthers progress through this season and face tougher opponents such as Oswego East, Plainfield South and Plainfield East, Parker is going to need more than one or two targets.
Unknown: Noah Parker
For the first two weeks of the season, Parker attempted only 19 passes and completed 14 of them, seven (50 percent) to Fomby. Parker’s play has steadily gotten better and better after not starting his junior year. Through the first two weeks, that narrative held. That is until last week when Parker had what you could call his “coming out party,” when he posted 328 yards through the air, completing 13 of his 16 attempts and throwing five touchdowns.
Another thing to note about Parker is that he has yet to throw an interception. He is not forcing plays. If he is pressured, he leaves the pocket and surveys the field, and if a play is there to be made, he makes it. If there is not a play to be made, Parker either throws it away, or tucks it and runs for as much as he can. Parker is putting himself and this football team in a better position by not forcing plays that lead to turnovers or mistakes. If Parker starts to play like he did against Joliet West more consistently, he could become a big part in this team making a run in the IHSA 8a playoffs. If this was a freak event, and he starts to revert back to what we saw in weeks one and two, which was good enough play for SPC, Coach Cooney would be forced into relying heavily on Coleman and Fomby once again.
This Panther defense has done nothing but impress through the first three games. Giving up 11 points per game on average, and forcing a total of eight turnovers, five interceptions and three fumbles. The D-line lead by junior Jack Hugunin has done nothing but shut down the opposing run game and put pressure on the QB. Through the first four games, the Panthers have posted 10 sacks, including two a piece for seniors Courtlund Adams and Kendall Aguirre. The Panther Secondary has done a fabulous job spreading the wealth, as four different players have recorded at least one of the .
Cooney prides himself on his defense, and this year is no exception as the unit he and the rest of his staff has looked fantastic so far. This defense could really be something special.
The penalty bug seems to bite every week for the Panthers. As is said almost weekly by those in the OHS press box, “it wouldn’t be a game without a sideline warning against the Panthers.” Just two weeks ago, the Panthers committed 16 penalties for over 100 yards. They were lucky that the free yardage and second chances they gave Plainfield North didn’t come back to bite them in the you-know-what, because as the Panthers start to see better competition, those teams will capitalize off of those opportunities. And when those teams do capitalize, it could very well end up costing the Panthers a very important game.
Overall, this team’s strengths outweigh its weaknesses. This squad has an opportunity to be something special. Whether or not it acts on it, we shall soon see. Three games that will show us who the Panthers really are will take place on Sep. 21, Oct. 5 and Oct. 19, as the Panthers take on Plainfield East, Oswego East and Plainfield South, respectively. Plainfield South, Oswego East and OHS are all tied atop the SPC at 4-0, with Plainfield East right on their tails at 2-2.
Buckle up, folks: this could be one wild season.