Alton quarterback Dalton Hamberg awaits a snap Friday at Public School Stadium against Collinsville.
Ricco Gipson of the Redbirds lurks in the open field for the defense on Friday vs. the Kahoks.
Alton running back Kareem Hamilton hauls the rock in the first half against Collinsville on Friday.
ALTON — For the first time since 2006 the Alton Redbirds are sure to have a winning season.
The Redbirds battled past the Collinsville Kahoks 29-6 on a sloppy Public School Stadium field on Friday, celebrating their Senior Night. The Birds are now 5-3 overall and 3-3 in the Southwestern Conference. Collinsville slipped to 1-8 and 1-5.
“I'm proud as heck of them,” Alton head coach Jeff Alderman said of his squad. “They obviously believe in what we're doing and that's a reflection when they compete and play hard. Tonight in adverse conditions we were nicked up obviously. We didn't have Lavonte (Hobbs) in there and Dalton (Hamberg) stepped in there and did a good job. Adverse field conditions, we overcame that. The defense was stout as ever again. We turned it over on our side of the 50 three times and (the defense) did a great job.”
Hobbs was sidelined with an ankle injury from the Week 7 loss to East St. Louis, and if that wasn't enough, AHS lost speedy running back Kareem Harrison to a shoulder injury late in the first half.
Alton persevered though with players stepping up and filling the slots. Linebacker Ricco Gipson — who picked up two sacks to accompany some bone-crushing tackles on defense — said it just shows the depth the Birds possess.
“We have the players to step in to fill in for other players,” Gipson said. “The coaches do a good job of preparing the backups.”
Senior Dalton Hamberg stepped in for Hobbs under center and finished the game 8 of 12 for 109 yards and rushed for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Senior Larry Calvin stepped up to lead the ground attack. Calvin rushed it 11 times for 69 yards and a TD.
The Redbirds struggled at the onset Friday. With a muddy, soupy field, Alton had the fumble fingers early. A fumbled snap on their first possession led to a recovery by Collinsville's Dorian Wren.
Alton coughed it up again on its next possession. This time it was CHS' Eric Finch corralling the loose ball.
“That field is a quagmire,” Alderman said. “It probably looked better from the stands than it was. It's pretty chewed up and credit our kids, they kept plugging along.”
Each time the defense thwarted the Kahoks. A crushing blow for a four-yard loss by Gipson and a sack by Qian'te Wagner and Tre'von Northern forced Collinsville to punt following Alton's second turnover.
AHS then finally broke the scoreless tie when Hamilton raced in on a 19-yard score at the 9:52 mark of the second quarter, capping a nine-play, 51-yard drive. Senior Brad Leonard booted the extra point to make it 7-0 in favor of Alton.
Moving the ball remained a chore throughout the rest of the opening half, but Leonard was able to capitalize late for the Redbirds, kicking a 30-yard field goal with 20.9 seconds left in the half to send them into the break with a 10-0 advantage.
Alton ground out another score with 1:24 to go in the third quarter when senior Justus Pedrero punched it in from one-yard out. Leonard's kick bounced off the upright, leaving the Birds ahead 16-0.
Alton's third turnover finally let the Kahoks reach the end zone. Fumbling on a punt early in the fourth quarter, CHS recovered it at the Alton 33-yard line.
Four plays later Collinsville's Jamal Wellmaker rumbled in for a 20-yard TD. The 2-point conversion failed, leaving the Kahoks behind 16-6.
Josh Lovings answered immediately for the Redbirds and it seemed to be the spark they needed. Lovings flew down the field on an 85-yard kickoff return, taking it to the Collinsville 5-yard line. It led to a 3-yard TD run two plays later with 8:41 to play by Calvin. The extra point was no good, but Alton went ahead 22-6.
“It was big. It was real big,” Gipson said of Lovings' kickoff return. “It was a motivational swing and a big swing in momentum.”
Alton tacked on one more score when Hamberg squeezed in behind the line for a 1-yard plunge with 3:41 left. Leonard's kick pushed it to 29-6.
With picking up their fifth win, the Redbirds may have enough to get into the playoffs, but it will rely on their playoff points. With one game left at Belleville West in Week 9, Alderman would love to see a win to make the postseason a certainty and give AHS a better seeding to boot.
“Our kids now with five wins, we're not guaranteed in, but we hope we're in point wise,” said Alderman. “But we've got to better our position.”
As for Hobbs and Hamilton, Alderman expects to see them both back in Week 9.
“He's got a sore shoulder, it's a bruise,” Alderman said of Hamilton. “We're going to have him looked at tomorrow, but he's an incredibly tough kid. I think we'll have him next week.”
Alderman added, “And if we really had to, Lavonte could have played. He's not full speed by any means, but I thought we'd give Dalton a chance. We have confidence in him and he responded, so that gave Lavonte a week to rest and hopefully we'll have him back for next week.”
Statistically behind Calvin in the running game, Hamilton ran it seven times for 32 yards and a score and Pedrero had six carries for 19 yards and a TD.
Keenan Stegall had the most receptions with three grabs for 20 yards. Lovings had two catches for 21 yards, Pedrero had two for 30 and Hamilton nabbed one reception for 38 yards.
ALTON 29, COLLINSVILLE 6
CHS 0 10 6 13 6
AHS 0 0 0 6 29
A - Hamilton 19 run (Leonard kick) 9:52
A - Leonard 30 field goal 20.9
A - Pedrero 1 run (kick failed) 1:24
C – Wellmaker 8 run (2-point failed) 9:40
A – Calvin 3 run (kick failed) 8:41
A – Hamberg 1 run (Leonard kick) 3:41