ALTON — It was a tough one to swallow for first-year head coach Eric Dickerson and his Alton Redbirds Friday night at Public School Stadium.
The East St. Louis Flyers visited the Birds on Friday for the Southwestern Conference opener and ran roughshod over them 56-0. The Flyers took a 48-0 lead into the locker room and earned a running clock in the second half. Four turnovers, including three in the second quarter plagued the Redbirds.
With the loss, Alton slipped to 0-3 on the season and 0-1 in the SWC, while East Side improved to 2-1 and 1-0 with the lopsided victory.
“It was 6-0 after the first quarter and then they scored 42 that second quarter — I don't know,” Dickerson said. “We didn't quit, we played hard and we fought every time we had the ball on offense and I've got to be proud of my kids for that.
“I'm still trying to deal with this. I haven't had to deal with this yet and I'm trying to put it in the right words, but I can't be disappointed in the play. On the scoreboard yeah, it's obviously something we don't ever want to see, but they battled and played hard and we had a lot of young kids playing tonight.”
The Redbirds missed six varsity starters in Friday's loss, including their top two running backs in Asa Collins and Jameyon Alexander. Collins also stars on the defensive line for AHS. Also missing were: offensive linemen Charlie Sholar and Chase Hook, wide receiver/defensive back Kenneth Burnett and linebacker Kalen Samelton. All were out with nagging injuries, Burnett's broken thumb the biggest injury of the bunch.
Dickerson plugged in five sophomores in their absence, but didn't use that as an excuse.
“You've got to learn,” Dickerson said. “I think we proved something to ourselves physically. They hit and we haven't been hit like that yet, but we held up and went toe to toe with them.”
The Flyers played without junior sensation Jeff Thomas at wide receiver. East St. Louis head coach Darren Sunkett said he's suspended from the team right now.
“Jeff is on suspension from the team right now,” Sunkett said. “It's an issue we don't want to discuss and we'll leave it at that.”
Sunkett wanted to see the Flyers bounce back from a 24-14 loss to Chicago Montini in Week 2 with a strong start in the SWC. He said they obviously did that on Friday.
“It was definitely a rebound week for us,” he said. “Last week we turned the ball over six times and dropped a tough one to a good team, so our focus this week was to take care of the football and execute our game plan offensively and defensively and we did a great job at that.”
It didn't start out that way though. East Side coughed up the ball on its first possession in the game and Alton's Ronald Gilchrese was there to gobble it up. AHS went three-and-out and punted the ball, but got it right back with the fumble.
The Birds moved the ball — even picking up a fourth-down conversion on a run dive by quarterback Keenan Stegall — but ultimately had to punt on the possession.
The quarter remained tight, but East Side finally broke the stalemate with 1:44 remaining in the opening stanza on a 23-yard run by quarterback Rayondus Estes. Facing second and 20, Estes rolled out right and raced to the end zone. The failed two-point try left the Flyers ahead 6-0.
“The first quarter we came and did what we wanted to,” Dickerson said. “We got a turnover, we had momentum going.”
The second quarter shifted the pendulum in East Side's direction though. East Side scored on a 60-yard passing touchdown and a 25-yard run by Estes and went ahead 20-0 with 9:43 to play.
Alton's turnovers then allowed the Flyers to stockpile points. East St. Louis scored after all three of the Birds' second-quarter fumbles and then with 36.4 seconds to go watched Estes score his third rushing TD. The two-point conversion was good and the Flyers owned a 48-0 lead entering the break.
Even when the Redbirds did something good in the second quarter they couldn't capitalize on it. Sophomore Darrell Smith broke an impressive 70-yard kickoff return midway through the frame, but two plays later Alton fumbled to hand it back to East Side.
“It was one step forward two steps back it felt like tonight,” Dickerson said.
When the Redbirds returned from the locker room they were able to pick up a fumble recovery on East St. Louis' first drive, but they coughed it up on the very next play.
With the clock running, it didn't take long to get through the second half. The Flyers tacked on one more TD when Jayni Jones ran in a 24-yard score with 7:40 left in the game. The two-point conversion was good to set up the final score.
Estes starred for the Flyers, running for 154 yards and three scores, while going 5 of 8 through the air for 134 yards and two more TDs. Jones and Kerrion Chairs had the other two rushing TDs for East Side.
Alton was led by Stegall's eight carries for 33 yards, while Smith chipped in with seven runs for 16 yards. Stegall was 3 of 9 passing for 17 yards. Kevin Caldwell had two grabs for eight yards and Simeon Brown had a nine-yard reception.
Now the Birds will prepare for Belleville East in Week 4 on the road. The Lancers beat Granite City 44-7 on Friday. Dickerson knows it will be another test.
“Hopefully we get better this week and we've got Belleville East next week,” he said. “I told the guys we're only three weeks in and we've got a long way to go. We're getting better every week.”