ALTON — With a chance to get back to the .500 mark and stay in the playoff hunt, Alton senior running back Keshon Young put the Redbirds' offense on his back Friday against the Belleville East Lancers.
Young scored on runs of 60 and 49 yards and the Redbirds' defense held the mistake-prone Lancers in check throughout as Alton celebrated homecoming with a 14-7 win.
Young wiped out a 7-0 East lead late in the first quarter when he broke three tackles and scored on his 60-yard run.
Young then picked up a fumble by quarterback Lavonte Hobbs and sprinted untouched down the left sideline for what turned out to be the winning touchdown with 6:11 left in the third quarter.
Alton's defense did the rest.
The Redbirds caused three turnovers, the final one with three minutes remaining when linebacker Rico Gipson returned a fumble 50 yards to the East 14-yard line.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Redbirds players celebrated their second straight win.
"I'm not one to rate one win higher than the others, but when you consider where we came from, this one is big for these kids,'' Alton coach Jeff Alderman said. "It wasn't always pretty and the second score wasn't how we drew it up, but these kids got the job done.
"We had a couple of big plays on offense and I just can't say enough about the defense. Those guys were outstanding.''
After finishing 2-7 a year ago, Alton improves to 3-3 overall and 2-2 in the SWC. The loss drops East to 2-4 for the season and 1-3 in the SWC.
"You can't make the mistakes that we made tonight, turn the football over three times and expect to beat a good football team and Alton is a good football team'' Lancers coach Tim Funk said.
"Once again though we just couldn't sustain anything. We would make a a couple of good plays, then we would have a penalty or turnover. It's just very disappointing."
Looking to give the Lancers' offense a jump-start, Funk went with senior Arkim Lewis at quarterback against the Redbirds.
The move worked early as, led by senior running back Brandon Mason, the Lancers marched down the field on their second possession. When Mason scored on a 3-yard run with 3:26 remaining in the first quarter, East led 7-0.
The lead didn't last long.
On a first-and-10 from the Alton 40, Young got hit in the backfield and then again at the line of scrimmage, but broke free and ran 60 yards for the tying score.
"I got hit, but I kept moving. After I broke the tackle, the field just kind of opened up and I took it to the end zone,'' said Young a transfer from Marquette High School in Alton. "This was a big game for us and I was going to do whatever I needed to make sure we came out on top.''
The Lancers' defense was doing its part to keep East in the game.
Alton had the ball inside the Lancers 20 three times in the first half, but came away empty.
But in the second half, the Redbirds got a little lucky on what proved to be the game-winning score.
Running the option, Hobbs sprinted to the left but was hit as he attempted to make the pitch. The ball bounced free and Young picked it up and sprinted in from 49-yards out.
"That wasn't how we drew up the play,'' Alderman said. "Lavonte made a bad decision trying to pitch the ball, but Keshon was alert enough to see the fumble and react.''
The Lancers' offense continued to sputter in the third quarter and for much of the fourth. Mason, who ran for 87 yards, and DeMarius Ward helped East take the ball inside Redbirds' territory late in the game.
But when Gipson picked up the Lancers third turnover of the game, Alton had clinched the win.