ALTON – It had been 357 long days for the Alton High School football program.
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That’s how long the Redbirds had to wait in between posting a win. Last year, in a 1-8 season, Alton’s lone win was a 28-7 game against Belleville West back on Sept. 16.
Fast forward to Sept. 8, 2023, and the Redbirds shocked the Triad Knights with a wild 28-24 victory at Public School Stadium, the first for newly appointed Alton head coach Cody Markle.
“It means the world to me,” Markle said. “Being here, born and raised, and being able to come back and get my first win here is just phenomenal. I can’t even describe the feeling.”
Markle unexpectedly had to take over at the helm for Alton after previous head coach David Parker stepped down in order to take another job.
His Redbirds now sit with a 1-2 record on the season with the win over Triad. The Knights fall to 1-2 as well.
The Redbirds received to open the game and had a nice reversal run to take the ball up to their 45-yard line to start things off. They were able to continue their drive after a pass interference call but eventually turned the ball over on downs after failing to execute on a 4th-and-7 attempt.
Triad took over at its 34 and had to convert on a fourth down of its own. After earning the first to keep the drive alive, junior quarterback Isaac Ackerman found senior receiver Tashon Cockarell for a 31-yard touchdown. The kick from senior Cory Warren was good to make it a 7-0 ball game.
The Redbirds had an immediate answer, which seemed to stun the Knights.
After a touchback, Alton started at their 20. After a lengthy, and time-consuming drive, sophomore wide receiver Ja’quiveon Whitfield ran one in from 34 yards out. The extra point was good, and it was a 7-7 tie.
That’s how things would stand headed into halftime.
The Knights didn’t take long to score in the second half. On their first drive, junior Ian Dempsey broke multiple tackles en route to a 20-yard rushing TD. The kick was good again and Triad was up 14-7.
Once again Alton retaliated immediately.
A long connection from sophomore QB Riley Smith to senior wide receiver Travis Billups set up a first-and-goal situation from the nine-yard line. Eventually, Smith found senior Curtis Young in the endzone, and the game was tied again at 14-14.
The Knights then had to settle for a field goal after failing to complete a 3rd-and-9. Warren was good again, this time from 31 yards out to regain the lead.
The highlight of the night came up next. After starting at their own 20, Alton gained a few yards before an electric 77-yard rushing TD from Billups. The kick was good again and Alton led 21-17.
Triad had to settle for another field goal, but this time senior Gibson Hunt’s attempt from 44 yards was missed low.
Alton miraculously recovered their ensuing punt after Triad misplayed it, but the Redbirds proceeded to give the ball right back after fumbling it.
The Knights took over at their 37 and wasted no time. A 55-yard connection from Ackermann to Dempsey set up a short 13-yard TD from Ackermann to Cockarell in the endzone to go back ahead 24-21.
The Redbirds got the ball back at their 20 with 3:10 remaining in the game. Plenty of time, but they needed a score.
On their next drive, Alton would catch a break. After only gaining four yards through three plays, a personal foul call on Triad moved the chains automatically for the home team.
Alton kept grinding and eventually was rewarded. Smith dropped a 22-yard dime to senior Samuel Elliott-Barnes in the endzone sending Alton fans into a frenzy. The extra points were perfect on the night as Alton led 28-24.
Triad regained possession at its 35 but couldn’t come up with a game-winning drive. The Knights had all three timeouts remaining, but minimal time. It was too much to overcome as the Knights suffered back-to-back losses, the first time since the 2019-20 season.
It seemed as if Triad was struggling to bring down the Alton players Friday night, leading to their demise.
“We haven’t tackled all year,” Triad head coach Calvin Potthast said. “It’s something we have to clean up at practice. It’s not that we don’t practice it, we just have to execute it in games, and we just aren’t doing that currently.”
“Hats off to (Alton) though,” he said. “They played hard, their receivers were super athletic, their quarterback got them open. We just couldn’t cover them.”
Alton trailed Friday’s game at four separate points but came back each time.
“Hell of a game,” Markle said. “I’m so proud of these boys. They rallied when they needed to rally.”
The team had to rally in multiple situations, on and off the field.
For the second week in a row, Alton’s fans had limited access to the games played at Public School Stadium. After multiple fights broke out at the high school last Wednesday, August 30, only parents and immediate family were allowed to attend both of the Redbirds’ first two home games. Quincy fans last week and Triad fans this week were not limited.
“These boys do an amazing job with all the adversity they’ve had to face these first three weeks,” Markle said. “They come out, work hard, push hard, and even push me to get better. They deserve this, it was a well-earned win, and I’m so proud of these guys.”
The Redbirds will be at home for a third straight week when they host Belleville West. Alton High Athletic Director Chris Kusnerick was confident that attendance could get back to normal next week in a statement put out earlier this week.
As for the Knights, they were unable to bounce back after a 39-28 loss to state-ranked Mount Zion. They’ll be back in action on the road when they open up Mississippi Valley Conference play in Waterloo.
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