ALTON — Big-strike capability has the Alton Redbirds on the cusp of possibly reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
And on Senior Night at Public School Stadium, 23 seniors led the push for the Redbirds, who got three rushing touchdowns and one receiving touchdown from senior Darrell Smith, and senior quarterback Taylor Price threw for three more as the Redbirds moved to 4-3 overall (3-2 in the Southwestern Conference) on the season with a 50-20 rout of the O’Fallon Panthers.
Alton, which can get to playoff-eligible five victories with a win next week at Granite City, rolled out to a 21-0 first-quarter lead thanks to three special teams’ blunders by the Panthers (2-5, 2-3) and did so with quick-strike capability and then allowed a weary defense to do the rest.
Alton’s fourth win was their most in a season since going 5-4 under current athletics director Jeff Alderman in 2014, but the Redbirds failed to qualify for the playoffs that season.
“The games that we’ve played and the ways that we’ve won, it’s a testament to these kids and their work ethic,” Alton fourth-year coach Eric Dickerson said. “They believe in each other, they believe in what they’re doing and that shows.
“We have that (big-play) ability. … We’ve got to teach that offense to control the ball a little bit more.”
The Redbirds were beneficiaries on three separate times punting the football in the first quarter.
A bad snap on O’Fallon’s first possession put the ball at the Panthers’ 3, and Izeal Terrell wasted little time scoring on the ensuing play to make it 7-0 with 9 minutes, 8 seconds left in the quarter.
After a blocked punt on the next possession, Alton took over at the O’Fallon 37 and Smith scored from 2 yards out, the first of three rushing touchdowns and a 14-0 lead with 2:41 left.
On O’Fallon’s third possession, a shanked punt gave Alton great field position again, this time at the Panthers’ 41 and Smith scored again from 2 yards out with 47.9 left in the opening quarter and a 21-0 lead.
And when Smith caught the first of Price’s three touchdown passes, a 62-yarder that came on Alton’s ninth offensive play of the game with 9:07 left in the second quarter, it was 28-0.
“That was it,” Dickerson said after being told the fourth TD came in the ninth offensive play. “I know my defense was tired.
“We were able to capitalize on those mistakes, and that’s what you need to do. They can prove that they can march the ball and score also, but I don’t think that’s too bad.”
“New offensive coordinator (former Jersey coach) Dave Jacobs, he puts in a lot of fast plays for us,” Price said. “The more we execute, the more we score. That’s what you saw today.”
Price, who has been the backup to sophomore Andrew Jones under center, only threw the ball eight times but completed five of them (three for touchdowns) for 144 yards and rushed it 14 times for 65 yards on an error-free night.
“It means a lot,” Price said. “I’ve been playing with these guys since I was seven years old, so it really means a lot for this being our last home game together. It’s kind of unbelievable how many athletes we’ve got and how we’ve bonded as brothers. It’s just a humbly experience for me.
“It’s one last time I’m going to be here, so it was like amazing. I love our field, I love our nest, I love our parents. It’s just a blessing.”
Price threw a pair of touchdowns in the third quarter, one to Kevin Caldwell Jr. for 37 yards on a third-and-31 slant play with 10:34 left, and a 41-yarder to Terrance Walker on a catch and run with 43.3 left.
Smith, who rushed just for 95 yards on only 12 carries, capped his final game at home with a 43-yard score with 7:22 remaining.
And with their fourth win, Alton, which was a combined 1-26 the past three seasons, can taste the playoffs.
“Off last year being 0-9, we just came in to prove anybody wrong,” Price said. “We know we’ve got the heart, we’ve got the talent, it’s time to go prove it.”
ALTON 50, O’FALLON 20
O’Fallon 0 7 7 6 — 20
Alton 21 7 15 7 — 50
A—Terrell 3 run (Lombardi kick), 9:08
A—D. Smith 2 run (kick failed), 2:41
A—D. Smith 2 run (Price pass to Terrell), :47.9
A—D. Smith 62 pass from Price (Lombardi kick), 9:07
OF—Anthony 36 pass from Curtis (Hackney kick), 5:01
A— Caldwell Jr. 37 pass from Price (Lombardi kick), 10:34
OF—Flores 6 pass from Curtis (Hackney kick), 2:17
A—Walker 41 pass from Price (Proudie run), :43.3
A—D. Smith 43 run (Lombardi kick), 7:22
OF—Osuma 8 run (kick blocked), 2:50
First Downs 20 11
Rushes-Yards 50-149 29-157
Passing Yards 223 144
Comp-Att-Int 14-28-1 5-8-0
Fumbles-Lost 2-0 1-0
Penalties 5-40 7-65
RUSHING-O’Fallon, Osuma 23-79, Curtis 2-(minus 2), Flores 17-69, C. Smith 1-8, Wilder 2-(minus 5). Alton, Terrell 1-3, D. Smith 12-95, Price 14-65, Caldwell Jr. 1-(minus 10), Samelton 1-4.