O'FALLON — A couple things got the attention of the O'Fallon Panthers on Friday.
The first was the arrival of University of Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel in a helicopter beyond the north end zone. The second was finding themselves trailing Alton 7-6 on their home field with 8 minutes, 50 seconds remaining.
The Panthers answered quickly on a 59-yard touchdown pass from Camden Bauer to Tae'Mon Franklin and added another TD late to hold off the upset-minded Redbirds 21-7 in a Southwestern Conference game.
"We preach to our kids you've just got to play four quarters and then we get down in the fourth quarter at home," said O'Fallon coach Brandon Joggerst, whose 2-1 team won its SWC opener. "We could have hung our heads a little bit, but we came back right away and answered so that was good to see.
"It wasn't pretty by any stretch. We left a lot of points on the board and there were a lot of penalties and some missed assignments."
Pinkel, who was in attendance through most of the first half, was watching O'Fallon defensive lineman Dewayne Hendrix.
After an interception by Keshon Young, Alton (1-2 overall, 1-1 in the SWC) converted on fourth-and-goal at the 5 when Justus Pedrero pounded it in up the middle. Eli Taul's extra point put Alton on top, but not for long.
Bauer put a deep ball on the money to Franklin, hitting the speedy senior in stride for a 59-yard TD.
"Tae'Mon's probably the first to tell you he should have had two more before that, but he made a big catch on that third one and that was a bit momentum boost for us," Joggerst said. "He's usually very solid for us. We just told him to catch the next one, you've got to forget about that and have a short-term memory. Go get the next one, and he made a big one when he had to."
O'Fallon tacked on another TD after Christian Selsor's fumble recovery on a punt return set up a 1-yard run by Marques Cooper with 4:19 remaining.
Alton threw quite a scare into the Panthers and coach Jeff Alderman saw many positives despite the loss.
"Our kids are understanding football now and I couldn't be more proud of our effort," Alderman said. "A couple big plays there that turned the tide, but our kids showed tonight they belong in this league and they can play at this level.
"It's something to build off of, but we can't be satisfied. We've gotten to the point now where losing hurts. I'm not sure losing hurt at Alton before --and now it does."
O'Fallon sophomore Kentrail Moran lugged the ball 26 times for 168 yards, including a 67-yard run. Bauer completed 15-of-27 passes for 166 yards.
The Panthers salvaged an otherwise forgettable first half with a late touchdown drive just before halftime.
Taking over at their own 20 with just 36.6 seconds remaining after a missed field goal by Alton, the Panthers moved quickly down the field.
They also were aided by a pass-interference penalty on Alton before Bauer hit Klayton Gettis over the middle. Gettis bowled over a defender, holding onto the ball as he plowed his way into the end zone with 3.4 seconds remaining.
O'Fallon had a 40-yard touchdown play called back on a penalty on its first possession. The Panthers were penalized 16 times for 155 yards, forcing the defense to contribute many big plays and turnovers to stop drives.
"We kept shooting ourselves in the foot, you can't have negative plays and we were putting ourselves in bad situations, second and long, third and long," Joggerst said. "It seemed like we were fighting it and fighting it."