ALTON — First-year Alton head coach Eric Dickerson had a plan entering Friday's game with Granite City — run the football.
That plan worked flawlessly, leading to the Redbirds winning 42-14, their first win of the season and the first win of Dickerson's coaching career. Alton is now 1-6 on the season and 1-4 in the Southwestern Conference. The faltering Warriors dipped to 2-5 overall and 0-5 in the SWC after winning their first two non-conference games of the season.
Running the football went very well for the Birds Friday, as they accumulated 408 yards on the ground and a whopping six touchdowns.
“We got together and decided that our best offense is when we run the football,” Dickerson said. “Having Asa (Collins) and Jameyon (Alexander) in there at the same time was key tonight and our O-line came out and blocked and we ran the ball very hard.”
Collins, who was a big contributor on the 5-4 team that narrowly missed the playoffs last year, hauled the rock 17 times for 135 yards and three TDs on Friday to lead the charge.
He said finally climbing in the win column was sweet.
“It feels awesome,” Collins said. “I like this feeling. I want to feel this for the next two weeks honestly.
“It's tough (from last year) because we lost a lot of guys and have a lot of young players coming in at pivotal positions like middle linebacker. We only have two real veteran players in myself and safety Simeon Brown, so it's a lot of young players without a lot of experience.”
Collins was complemented by fellow seniors, quarterback Keenan Stegall with eight carries for 136 yards and two TDs and tailback Alexander with 13 carries for 96 yards and a score.
It was Stegall drawing first blood on the fourth play of the game, taking off on an electric 45-yard TD run at the 10:17 mark of the first quarter.
The Redbirds then looked to have GCHS stopped on its opening drive. Collins sacked Granite City quarterback Gabe Jarman to set up a fourth-and-12 situation, bringing the punt team onto the field.
AHS went back to receive the punt, but the Warriors instituted some trickery, as Caleb Venne ended up with the ball and fired a TD pass to Ron Allen for 57 yards at the 6:59 mark of the opening quarter. Jarman's extra point knotted it at 7-7.
“That (fake punt) was good, because they had come down and scored on the option — we've got to get better play from our outside linebackers on that — but we come right back down and score and tie it up 7-7 and it's a ball game, but then we give up two or three scores in a row and get down by halftime. We didn't play very well the first half,” said GCHS head coach Carl Luehmann.
Dickerson was happy to see his squad respond after the fake punt play. The Birds reeled off four straight TDs to nab a commanding 35-7 lead.
“This game is full of ups and downs, it's a roller coaster ride,” Dickerson said. “You're going to be up sometimes, you're going to be down sometimes, but how do you react to that is the make of your team. It kind of shows you the kind of resolve this team has. They're not going to give up.”
Collins punched in a one-yard score with 1:52 to go in the first quarter and after the Warriors fumbled the ensuing kickoff, Alexander capped a four-play drive for the Redbirds with a seven-yard score with 39 seconds left in the opening frame. It gave Alton a comfy 21-7 lead.
Stegall then broke off a 49-yard TD run and Collins plunged in from one-yard out in the second quarter to elevate it to 35-7.
Granite City supplied a big play to slice into the lead late in the half when Jarman found Kyle Thompson for a 42-yard TD strike with 2:21 to play. The score at the break was 35-14.
“I was pretty disappointed with the way we played in the first half,” Luehmann said.
Collins scored once more for the Redbirds in the second half, rumbling in from 21 yards out in the fourth quarter for his third TD.
Alton picked Granite City off three times on Friday, too. Harrison Henderson had a first-half interception on Jarman, while Jonathan Bumpers picked Jarman off in the second half and Rashad Williams intercepted backup GCHS quarterback Kendrick Williba late.
Collins helped pace the defense with two and a half sacks. Kicker Nick Hatfield booted five extra points in the win.
Granite City was plagued by four turnovers in the game. Jarman was 7 of 14 with 109 yards passing, a TD and two interceptions. Allen led the rushing attack with seven carries for 32 yards and added four catches for 83 yards and a score through the air. Thompson had four snares for 73 yards and a TD.
On homecoming night and a game where AHS recognized legendary head coach Ed Yonkus' era of coaching (1965-71), Dickerson was stoked to get the win. It may not have sunk in that it's his first one, but he was happy for his kids.
“I don't know yet,” he said with a smile. “It's a good feeling I can tell you that, but I'm more excited for the boys in that locker room.”
Collins said if the Redbirds finish the season strong that's all that matters.
“It's always important to finish out strong because that's what people are going to remember,” he said. “They're going to remember the last thing that you did, not how you started out, but how you finished.”
Alton is back in action in Week 8 at Edwardsville, while Granite City plays host the Belleville West.