Alton quarterback Lavonte Hobbs looks to complete a pass in the first half in East St. Louis on Friday.
Alton's Justus Pedrero runs the ball Friday in East St. Louis.
EAST ST. LOUIS — A valiant effort by the Alton Redbirds wasn't quite enough Friday at Clyde C. Jordan Stadium in East St. Louis.
The Flyers responded from a 7-6 deficit in the second quarter with 20 unanswered points to beat the Redbirds 27-7.
With the win, East Side is now 4-3 overall and 4-1 in the Southwestern Conference. Alton dipped to 4-3 and 2-3 in league action.
AHS head coach Jeff Alderman had no complaints with the effort his squad showed Friday though. The Redbirds forced East Side into three turnovers and played gritty football against the talented Flyers.
“I want to tip my hat to our kids,” Alderman said. “Our kids are battlers, they're warriors. I'm proud of them. We've come so far and they've got nothing to hang their heads about. Our season goals are still intact. We just had a little bit of a setback, but we're going to go back to work tomorrow.”
It was a couple of big plays that made the difference for the Flyers and head coach Darren Sunkett thought they did a good job of taking advantage of their opportunities.
“We felt like we moved the ball with ease at times,” Sunkett said. “We knew coming in that they had a very aggressive defense and we had to make plays when we had the chance. Our problem was we just couldn't get off the field defensively. They did a good job of keeping us off balance. That helped them, because I don't think we had as many opportunities offensively as we needed, but all-in-all we came out with a win.”
East St. Louis took its opening drive and marched 74 yards on 13 plays and scored on a 5-yard touchdown pass by quarterback Reyondus Estes with 5:26 to go in the first quarter. The extra point was no good, leaving the Flyers with a 6-0 lead.
Alton then went four-and-out, but Ronald Gilchrese corralled a fumble on the punt return to set the Birds up at the East Side 43-yard line. It was the first of three Flyer turnovers Friday. AHS was unable to capitalize though.
It wasn't until the 5:52 mark of the second quarter Alton pounced with its back against the wall. Facing a fourth-and-13 at the East St. Louis 28-yard line, Lavonte Hobbs hooked up with Demonte' Wigfall near the sideline and Wigfall galloped into the end zone for a 28-yard score. Brad Leonard stuck the extra point, giving AHS a 7-6 lead.
The Redbirds followed up the TD by forcing their second turnover. Estes looking over the middle was picked off on an acrobatic leaping snag by Alton's Josh Lovings.
Unfortunately, AHS was forced to point and East Side answered before the break. Estes dumped a screen pass out to speedster Jeff Thomas and the sophomore Division I recruit blazed up the sideline for a 54-yard TD with 51.1 seconds left prior to halftime. Angel Galeana booted the extra point to give East Side a 13-7 advantage entering the locker room.
“We couldn't capitalize on our big plays and there were a couple big plays for them,” Alderman said. “For the most part I thought we battled them and made them extend their drives, which they haven't done, so credit to them.”
Alton's first turnover seemed to give the Flyers momentum in the third quarter. Hobbs was intercepted by East Side's Raekwon Griffin midway through the stanza. The Flyers then lethargically ran the ball down field 74 yards to the Alton 1-yard line on 10 straight rushes to end the quarter.
As East Side took the ball to start the final frame though, Missouri recruit Nate Strong fumbled with AHS recovering it at the 2-yard line. Strong finished the game with 17 carries for 99 yards.
After a one-yard run by Hobbs, the senior signal caller found Lovings wide open on the next play. Lovings raced to the East Side 27-yard line for a 70-yard reception.
The East St. Louis defense tightened up though and on a fourth-and-19 situation, Hobbs tried to rekindle the magic from his fourth down heroics earlier in the game. This time East Side's star defensive end Terry Beckner was there, flinging Hobbs to the ground for a sack and 14-yard loss. It was one of two sacks on the night for Beckner.
The Flyers answered with a 5-yard TD run by Estes with 7:39 to go in the game. Galeana's kick was good and East St. Louis forged ahead 20-7.
Sunkett wasn't surprised at all to see the Birds go for it on fourth down.
“We weren't surprised, Alton was hungry for a win,” Sunkett said. “They were playing for a lot and when you're hungry like that you take risks. They took that risk and it didn't pan out for them, but it sparked us.”
Unfortunately for the Birds, Hobbs would leave on their next possession after a 5-yard scramble. He hobbled off the field with a right ankle injury and would not return.
“We'll evaluate that tomorrow,” Alderman said. “I know it's an ankle, but you have no idea how those can be. Some kids rally from those quicker than others, so we don't know how it will be.”
Senior Dalton Hamberg entered to replace Hobbs and quickly extended the drive. Hamberg found Justus Pedrero for a 21-yard strike and Larry Calvin on a couple short passes. A roughing the passer penalty on East Side helped continue the drive and a pass to Lovings put the Birds on the East Side 6-yard line. Facing a fourth-and-five, Hamberg threw toward the end zone, but the ball was tipped and fell into the hands of Thomas. The speedy Flyer sophomore then inserted the dagger into Alton, sprinting 103 yards to the house with 3:57 to go. Galeana's extra point upped it to 27-7.
“You see how explosive a kid he is,” Alderman said of Thomas. “You see why everybody in the nation is recruiting him. We haven't seen speed like that all year. He's a great player and only a sophomore. It makes you sick to think you've got to play him two more years.”
Alderman praised Hamberg for his work coming off the bench.
“For coming off the bench he threw it a little behind him,” Alderman said. “He had him open, but he threw it a little behind him, but heck, Dalton got us down there too. Hats off to him, not everybody can do that coming in cold on a moment's notice.”
The loss will continue the Redbirds' search for that coveted fifth win that will likely get them in the playoffs for the first time since 2006. They return home next week to face Collinsville at 7 p.m. for Senior Night.
Statistically, Hobbs was 11 of 18 for 183 yards, a TD and a pick. Hamberg was 7 of 13 for 60 yards and the interception. Lovings paced the receivers with eight grabs for 99 yards, while Wigfall had four catches for 51 yards and a TD. Kareem Hamilton had 13 carries for 35 yards to lead the ground attack.
Estes was 3 of 7 for 95 yards and two scores and a pick for East St. Louis. Marvin Young complimented Strong with 13 carries for 54 yards and Thomas was the top receiver with 2 grabs for 90 yards and a TD for East Side.