ALTON — Public School Stadium was packed and ready for some football on Friday. Unfortunately the visiting Rock Island Rocks spoiled the festivities.
The Rocks defeated the Alton Redbirds 34-6, scoring the final 27 points in the game to win the season opener for both teams.
The Eric Dickerson era at Alton didn't start the way he wanted, but the new head coach wasn't displeased with the effort. Three turnovers, inopportune penalties and allowing a couple big offensive plays by the Rocks plagued the Birds in the loss, but there were some definite bright spots.
“I'm not disappointed in our effort,” Dickerson said. “I thought we came out and played hard. I thought our offense was moving the ball all night, but a couple turnovers here and a couple penalties there kills a drive. It doesn't matter what team you are, if you go from second and six to second and 16 it's hard. The boys came out and competed and we got down early and they fought back.”
Rock Island head coach Bryan Stortz pointed to those three AHS turnovers — an interception and two fumbles — as a huge difference maker in the game.
“Anytime you come out on the positive side of the turnover battle it usually results in the positive side of the win loss column,” Stortz said. “It's something we stress with our guys all the time. It's one of the key fundamentals that we work on and expect our guys to create turnovers. It's a key statistic in wins and losses.”
After Alton's opening drive faltered and led to a punt, the Rocks were able to march downfield on the AHS defense, but once in the red zone the Birds tightened up. Asa Collins sacked Rock Island quarterback Alek Jacobs and Alton got the Rocks into a fourth and short situation.
Rock Island went for it and drew the Redbirds offsides to give itself a fresh set of downs. Running back Tre Nimmers then rumbled into the end zone from eight yards out at the 5:07 mark of the first quarter. Zach Blumberg's extra point was good, propelling the Rocks in front 7-0.
“We're learning and tonight was a lot of first games for varsity players,” Dickerson said. “Mistakes were made, but the good news is they're correctable and we can fix those.”
That's the way it would stay to close the opening quarter, but Alton was able to change the score on its first possession of the second quarter.
Big runs from seniors Jameyon Alexander and Asa Collins moved the chains for the Redbirds. Collins had runs of 9 and 16 yards, Alexander had a rush of 10 yards, quarterback Keenan Stegall ran for 11 yards and Stegall hooked up with Collins for a three-yard completion. It all set up Alexander, who scooted in for a four-yard score to cap the 45-yard, eight-play drive.
Alexander scored with 7:37 to go in the second quarter. The extra point failed, but the Birds had drawn to within 7-6.
Unfortunately the Rocks answered within 59 seconds. Jacobs scrambled for 71 yards in the first play of the following drive and after a five-yard run by Nimmers, Jacobs hooked up with Shamus Murphy for a nifty catch in the end zone with 6:38 on the clock. Blumberg booted the extra point and it was 14-6.
Jacobs, a 5-foot-11 junior quarterback, is back under center for Rock Island for the second straight season and the experience showed.
“(Jacobs) made some good decisions, but at the same point our defense stood tall,” Dickerson said. “A couple big plays, like the long run on us and he had a long pass play.”
The score remained 14-6 entering the break, but the second half belonged to the Rocks.
Nimmers scored his second TD at the 9:49 mark of the third quarter and the extra point made it 21-6.
An unsportsmanlike penalty on AHS helped lead to another rushing TD for Rock Island with 3:27 to play in the third. Blumberg's kick made it 28-6.
Alton's second fumble of the game set up Rock Island's final score with 1:54 to go in the game. The extra point failed, ending the contest at 34-6.
Dickerson was pleased with some of the things he saw though. Collins led the way on the ground with 13 carries for 94 yards and despite two fumbles looked great breaking tackles and earning second-effort yardage on numerous occasions. Alexander had 11 carries for 43 yards and a TD. He came out of the game with a leg cramp, but Dickerson said it's nothing serious.
Stegall was 5 for 10 for 57 yards and a pick in his first start as signal caller. Shakobie Moss had two grabs for 26 yards and on defense Collins had 1.5 sacks and Zach Llewellyn and KeOntay Holmes each had one sack.
Many of the Redbirds played both ways on Friday and Dickerson thought they were up to the task.
“Zach and Charlie (Sholar) and Asa and Malik (Williams), double duty at fullback and linebacker,” Dickerson said. “There are a lot of guys we have going both ways right now.”
He thought Collins and Alexander showed a lot of grit out of the backfield especially.
“There was a lot of toughness with Asa and Jameyon,” Dickerson said. “They didn't come down with the first hit. It took two or three guys to bring them down and it was good to see them pulled down from behind instead of head on falling backwards. We were falling forward all night.”
Limiting the mistakes will be the focus when the Birds travel to Quincy in Week 2. Dickerson believes they are correctable flaws.
“I told them we have to stay together,” he said. “This is a long season and we still have eight games left and the mistakes that were made tonight on both sides and the penalties are correctable. One day when we bat a ball we're going to bat it into our hands instead of our opponent's receivers' hands. They need to keep their heads up, they did a good job and there is no reason for them to hang their heads tonight.”