ALTON — It was a rough Friday night at Public School Stadium. Steady rain turned the field into a soupy mess and the Alton Redbirds lost another football game.
Belleville East came to town and beat Alton 19-6. The Birds dropped to 0-4 overall and 0-2 in the Southwestern Conference with the loss, while the Lancers logged their first win, improving to 1-3 and 1-1.
To make matters worse, AHS lost standout junior running back Darrell Smith on the first drive of the game. He would not return. After the game Smith had his ankle wrapped and was on crutches. Alton head coach Eric Dickerson said he would be evaluated on Saturday as to the severity of his injury.
It was big plays that did in the Birds against East. Lancer touchdowns came on a 94-yard run, a 51-yard run and a 44-yard pass. Dickerson admitted that's been an issue for Alton on the season thus far.
“That's kind of happened to us all year,” Dickerson said. “We've shut (opponents) down first, second, third down and they came out fourth down and get a big play, or third and long get a big play. It's hurt us all year long. We've just got to keep our heads up and we've still got five games left and a lot left to prove with these guys and our young players.”
East broke the scoreless tie at the 7:23 mark of the first quarter, its third offensive play of the game. Running back Roderick Morgan rumbled for a 94-yard touchdown run up the sideline, breaking a couple tackles along the way. Nolan Wellinghoff kicked the PAT to make it 7-0.
For two winless football teams, that first score was crucial in setting the stage for the game, especially in the soggy conditions.
“In conditions like this, you get some scores early and the field is just going to degenerate,” Lancers coach Kris Stephens said. “We saw it. It just kind of turned into smash-mouth. Neither team could pop something late, but those big plays early were definitely the things that made it happen.”
With Smith out of the game for Alton after just 2 carries for 22 yards, it had to find the formula for success on offense. Dickerson tried different combinations to get things percolating, including splitting quarterback duties between junior Taylor Price and junior Dyllon Proudie.
On AHS' fourth drive of the game, Proudie capped a 6-play, 37-yard drive with a 2-yard plunge into the end zone at the 9:22 mark of the second quarter. Unfortunately, Alton missed the extra point and trailed 7-6.
“It's kind of 1A and 1B,” Dickerson said of Price and Proudie. “We feel like we go with the hot hand. I felt that Dyllon was running the ball really well tonight and in conditions like this it's not easy to throw the ball, so we tried to establish the run and go from there.”
East was able to answer twice before the break though. At the 2:50 mark of the second quarter, running back Freddie Waller III slipped through the middle of the Redbird defense and sprinted 51 yards for a score. The snap was fumbled on the PAT attempt, leaving the Lancers up 13-6.
After the Birds went three and out on their next drive, East struck again. This time quarterback Kienan Waller hooked up with Freddie Waller III on a 44-yard passing TD with 1:26 left in the half. The Lancers went for two, but failed, leaving the score 19-6 entering halftime.
“I think both quarterbacks were throwing hand grenades and shot puts out there tonight, but we connected on one of them, which was good,” Stephens said laughing.
With conditions worsening in the second half as steady rain continued, neither team was able to find the end zone again. It was hard to get traction in the wet grass. Waller III left the game after being injured on a third-quarter run and never returned. Stephens said he would be evaluated on Saturday.
Surprisingly, the lone turnover in the game came in the third quarter when Alton's Ahmad Sanders intercepted a Kienan Waller pass attempt in AHS territory.
Sanders later awoke the Alton faithful with a 43-yard punt return to start the Redbirds' final drive of the game during the fourth quarter. The possession eventually stalled and AHS turned it over on downs to the Lancers.
The Birds will go back to the drawing board and try to figure out how to right the ship for Week 5 as they head to O'Fallon. The Panthers are 1-3 and 1-1 after losing 19-0 at Edwardsville on Friday.
“The opening drive, we're moving the ball and Smith goes down, that hurts,” Dickerson said. “We're a young team and we're still trying to figure out a lot of things. Belleville East came out ready to play tonight and had a game plan in mind and they executed better than we did tonight.
“I didn't like the conditions we were playing in tonight, but both teams have to play in them. I felt good. We had a good week of practice, the kids were confident and I thought they came out ready to play. We've just got to figure out ways to finish out drives and put the ball in the end zone.”