CHICAGO — In 1992 the Alton Redbirds defeated Pekin 28-21 in overtime at Public School Stadium for the program’s first postseason win.
Since then the Birds have been shutout trying to find playoff success… until now.
On Friday Alton defeated Chicago Lincoln Park 32-14 at Lane Stadium on the campus of Lane Technical College Prep High School, just 1.9 miles from Wrigley Field in Chicago. It was a first-round Class 7A game and AHS’ first playoff appearance since 2006.
Now the Redbirds (6-4) await to meet the winner of New Lenox Lincoln-Way West and Algonquin Jacobs, which meet at 6 p.m. Saturday in New Lenox. If West wins Alton will play host to a second-round game at Public School Stadium. If Jacobs wins the Birds will hit the road back to Chicagoland.
On Friday they made sure they would play again with a stout running game and a hard-hitting defense. Alton rushed for five touchdowns on offense and forced three turnovers on defense in the win.
Senior Darrell Smith was a workhorse in the running game. He finished with 218 yards on 30 carries with 3 TDs to pace the Redbirds. He surpassed the century mark in each half, rushing for 106 yards and a score on 17 carries in the opening half and 112 yards on 13 touches with 2 TDs in the second half.
Smith’s first TD put the Birds on the board early. After forcing Lincoln Park into a 3-and-out on its first possession, Smith ran it 3 times, capped off by a 20-yard TD run to give Alton the 6-0 lead at the 9:42 mark of the first quarter. With gusting winds all night the kicking and passing games were somewhat of an adventure as Colin Lombardi missed the extra point.
AHS’ first turnover of the contest allowed the Lions to tie the game. They recovered a fumble and Lincoln Park quarterback Jacob Dowell found Dane Romberger on a 17-yard TD strike to cap the drive at the 4:30 mark of the first quarter. The PAT failed, leaving the game tied 6-6.
That’s the way it stayed headed into the break.
Turnovers and miscues made up much of the remaining first half. Izeal Terrell scooped up a loose ball for Alton’s first big defensive play late in the first quarter. Unfortunately, the Birds coughed it up on offense deep in Lincoln Park’s territory for their second turnover.
In the second quarter, AHS tied up the turnover battle when Charles Miller picked off Dowell. Later a big sack on Dowell by Alton defensive lineman Kyle Hughes pushed the Lions back 10 yards on a their final drive of the first half.
The Redbirds got a chance to enter the locker room with a lead, but Lombardi kicked a 39-yard field goal just short as time ran out on the half.
Smith got Alton back on the scoreboard to cap a long drive to open the second half. Quarterback Andrew Jones connected with Jonathan Bumpers on a 6-yard strike to set up Smith’s nifty 16-yard TD run to make it 12-6 at the 7:46 mark of the third quarter. A 2-point conversion attempt failed for the Redbirds.
Dowell responded for the Lions. He hooked up with 6-foot-4 Terrence Shannon on a 10-yard TD pass. The extra point failed, leaving the contest squared up at 12-12 with 2:42 remaining in the third.
Jones found Kevin Caldwell, Jr. on a 35-yard air connection on the next drive for Alton and then Terrell entered on offense and finished the drive with a 2-yard TD run. Lombardi nailed the PAT and with 1:26 to go in the third AHS led 19-12 and never relinquished it.
Michael Hampton may have had the defensive play of the game for Alton on the next play from scrimmage. He intercepted a pass over the middle from Dowell, snagging it with one hand while sprawling out on the field. It was the third turnover of the game for Lincoln Park.
The Redbirds didn’t find the end zone again until the 7:43 mark of the fourth quarter on Smith’s best run of the night. He powered up the gut, stiff arming a Lions’ defender and shifting his way in on a 35-yard run. Lombardi’s kick made it 26-12.
After Lincoln Park’s frustrations mounted when wide receiver Gabe Medina was ejected from the game, Alton found paydirt once more. This time it was Caldwell taking an end around and racing 22 yards to the house with 4:15 left in the game. A botched snap made the PAT no good, but it was more than enough for the Birds to close it out.
Miller had a monster sack on Dowell on the Lions’ final drive for a 12-yard loss to set up a fourth-and-long situation.
The defensive effort from the Alton secondary was superb. Hampton, Kiondray Samelton Rashad Williams, Ju’Qui Womack and Ahmad Sanders made plays and big hits throughout the game. Samelton especially did a great job against Lincoln Park’s lanky and talented Shannon at receiver, even saving a second-half TD with stellar coverage on him in the back of the end zone.
Now AHS awaits its fate in Week 2 of the postseason and whether it will be home or on the road and if it can reach the Class 7A state quarterfinals for the first time in school history.