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Alton's Larry Calvin busts out a 52-yard run during the first quarter against Pekin on Friday
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Redbird quarterback Lavonte Hobbs hooks up with wide out Justin Lovings on a 60-yard TD strike on the first offensive play of the game Friday.
ALTON — It took the Alton Redbirds just 16 seconds to make a statement in 2014.
On the first offensive play of the season for AHS, quarterback Lavonte Hobbs found Justin Lovings for a 60-yard touchdown strike. Alton didn't look back as they defeated the visiting Pekin Dragons at Public School Stadium 44-12 on Friday. It was the first season opening win for the Redbirds since they bested Quincy 41-22 to open the 2008 season.
It was Alton's speed that dominated. The Birds had four plays longer than 50 yards from scrimmage, three of them going for TDs.
“We have that capability,” Alton head coach Jeff Alderman said. “We have explosive kids.”
Pekin head coach Doug Nutter admitted it was that speed that gave the Dragons fits.
“They out big played us hands down,” Nutter said. “(Hobbs) would scramble around and throw balls up and kids made plays. They made plays, we didn't and we just got out big played.
“They have tons of speed and I've got to give coach Alderman credit. He had his kids ready to go, they came out fired up and we didn't.”
Hobbs was good under center on Friday. The senior signal caller was 5 of 8 for 176 yards and threw for two scores. Besides the 60-yard strike to Lovings, Hobbs scrambled and found Demonte' Wigfall for a 92-yard TD pass in the second quarter.
Hobbs said it felt good to hook up with Lovings on the very first play of '14. It took some pressure off.
“It felt really good,” Hobbs said. “I didn't expect it to happen. Josh made it happen, short sideline, that's the kind of stuff we've been working on all week. We made it happen, carried it over to the game.”
Alton scored on its next two offensive possessions, too.
Larry Calvin highlighted the second drive with a 52-yard rumble. Kicker Bradley Leonard capped the drive with a 25-yard field goal at the 6:36 mark to make it 10-0. Kareem Hamilton, a senior transfer running back from Marquette Catholic, joined the fun on AHS' third offensive possession. Hamilton raced in from 30 yards out for a score with 3:34 to go in the first quarter, handing the Redbirds a comfortable 17-0 advantage at the close of the first quarter.
The next score came at the 7:47 mark of the second quarter. Hobbs scrambled to avoid the Pekin defense and floated a short pass to Wigfall, who motored 92 yards into the end zone to elevate the lead to 24-0.
Hobbs was pleased with how Wigfall stuck with him while he scrambled, giving him time to get him the ball.
“That's how it is in practice, honestly,” Hobbs said. “We just carried it over to the game again with that play.”
When the horn sounded for the half, Alton found itself with a comfy 24-0 lead.
And while the offense was standing out, the defense was doing its job flawlessly in the first half. Asa Collins picked up 1.5 sacks and Qi'ante Wagner added one, while Calvin and Simeon Brown had first-half interceptions and Lovings had a fumble recovery.
“We know we're going to hang our hat on our defense,” Alderman said. “We realize that and I think we just got a little tired in the second half and that will come. First game it's always a little bit hot and you've got to get that first game under your belt so you can get acclimated.”
AHS forced two more quick turnovers to start the second half. Tre'von Northern had a fumble recovery and Lovings picked up his second interception in the third quarter.
After Calvin scored on a 4-yard run to make it 31-0, the Dragons finally got on the board with a 30-yard run with 2:10 to go in the third.
The Redbirds and Pekin then traded scores as Hamilton busted outside and exploded 77 yards for a score with 1:08 to go in the third. Hamilton finished with five carries for 111 yards and two scores. As the quarter closed, Alton was ahead 37-6.
Each team scored in the fourth with Harrison Henderson soaring in from 30 yards out for the final score for the Redbirds.
If there were any blemishes on the Birds, it was penalties. They racked up 120 yards on 14 penalties, 100 of them coming in the first half.
“What we really need to do is clean up the penalties,” Alderman said. “We just can't have that and get better, but that's teachable, that's fixable and that's correctable so we will work on that. Our explosiveness should help us out though. We've got four or five guys that can break the ball, and we showed that tonight.”
Next up for Alton is Cahokia at 7 p.m. next Friday on the road. Alderman said it will definitely be a test.
“Cahokia is very talented,” he said. “They are going to match us speed-wise and they are always very disciplined and we're going down there to play. There's going to be obstacles and a lot of challenges.”
ALTON 44, PEKIN 12
Pekin 0 0 6 6 — 12
Alton 17 7 13 7 — 44
A — Lovings 60 pass from Hobbs (Leonard kick) 11:43
A — Leonard 25 field goal 6:36
A — Hamilton 30 run (Leonard kick) 3:34
A — Wigfall 92 pass from Hobbs (Leonard kick) 7:47
A — Calvin 4 run (Leonard kick) 5:52
P — Sebastian Fuller 30 run (kick failed) 2:10
A — Hamilton 77 run (kick failed) 1:08
P — Justin Morton 9 run (2-point failed) 8:52
A — Henderson 28 run (Leonard kick) 1:48