GODFREY — The debut on Piasa Motor Fuels Field at Alton High School didn't go quite the way the Alton Redbirds had imagined.
In a game suspended since Sept. 10 due to lightning, the Redbirds owned a 1-0 lead over the O'Fallon Panthers with 20:57 to play in the first half when it resumed Tuesday. Originally played at Gordon Moore Park, the game moved to the new field at AHS and got ugly quickly for the Birds, ultimately ending in 5-1 loss to O'Fallon.
With the loss, Alton dipped to 9-8-3 and 2-2-1 in the Southwestern Conference. It was the fourth loss in a row for the Redbirds, who haven't scored a goal since a 1-0 win over Edwardsville on Oct. 1. Nick Hatfield had the goal vs. O'Fallon, but it came at the onset of the game on Sept. 10.
The Panthers moved to 11-7-1 overall and 3-1-1 in the SWC with Tuesday's triumph.
“At the Edwardsville game we were playing pretty well, but we took a step back last week,” AHS head coach Jay Robertson said. “We're having some breakdowns defensively obviously that we need to fix. I'm seeing some good things, but definitely some things we need to repair. We know we can play when we're on top of our game, but we obviously have to get things fixed and we have a game to do it before playoffs.”
The Panthers wasted little time in leaping onto the scoreboard Tuesday. Jeffrey Pratt scored right in front of Alton goalie Devin Colley in the 24th minute to tie it up. Less than a minute later O'Fallon scored again and then tacked on a third first-half goal in the 34th minute to nab a 3-1 lead at the break.
“The game was five weeks ago. It's two different teams at this point,” Panthers' coach Jason Turkington said. “They were playing so well early and they're playing without arguably their best player (Eric Ferenbach) and it's unfortunate. We took advantage of opportunities and we've been playing well the last two weeks. We've won six of eight now.”
Ferenbach — who has a team-high 18 goals — hurt his ankle in a 1-0 loss vs. Jersey on Oct. 5 at Moore Park. He's been idle since while the Birds look to have him healthy for a playoff push.
“He's day-to-day,” Robertson said. “It's tender still and hopefully maybe by Collinsville (Thursday), if not he should be back by Quincy next week in the playoffs.”
The Redbirds also played without junior midfielder C.J. Nasello on Tuesday.
“It's just a precautionary measure right now,” Robertson said.
Robertson acknowledged that all three of the first-half goals were similar in their execution. The faltering defense is an issue he hopes to fix soon.
“They came in, we were on our heels and we need to get back to attacking more defensively and offensively,” said Robertson. “We've been on our heels the last three games.”
O'Fallon was able to tack on two more goals in the second half, again scoring twice within a minute in the 44th and 45th minutes.
Alton made a switch in goal, replacing Colley with Brandon Wilson and just seemed to settle down and play better defensively the rest of the way.
“They just played, went out and played hard and went after balls, played aggressive and put a little more pressure on,” Robertson said. “I think the nerves went away and we just started playing.”
As for the new field, Robertson wasn't happy with the result, but he was happy with the Birds' new home. They only had a couple practices there before Tuesday.
“The grass is thick and when you're playing you've got to hit it to get it through here, but it's nice thick grass and we're going to have to just learn the lay of the land now,” he said. “We were out here Friday and Monday morning, but it's nice after school. It cuts off about 25 minutes of waiting time when we're going out to Gordon Moore. It gets us here a lot earlier for practice.”
It's those logistics that have Robertson most stoked about the new Piasa Motor Fuels Field.
“We joke about it, but those balls go into the shed now instead of drunk,” Robertson quipped. “That part is pretty cool.”
Alton will wrap up the 2015 regular season with Senior Night at 6 p.m. Thursday when it welcomes Collinsville to AHS.