Alto clings to lead to eke out win

by Michelle Dillon

The Yellowjackets football team gave fans something to cheer during the first football game since the devastation experienced by the Alto community this past spring. Hosting the 3A Westwood Panthers in the home opener on Cam’ron Matthews Field Friday, Aug. 30, Alto held on for a 28-20 victory in the non-conference contest.

“It’s definitely big, with everything we’ve had going on and still going on,” Head Coach Ricky Meeks said of the win. “Getting back into football season is a way we can get some normalcy and something for the community to get excited about. So for us to come out and take care of business tonight, it’s very nice.”

The Yellowjackets totaled 147 rushing yards and 58 yards passing for 205 offensive yards in the initial match of the season. The defense, however, made all the difference racking up 31 tackles including 11 from senior Cayle Irvin (No. 55), 11 from senior Harmon West (No. 10), six produced by senior Kolt Dement (No. 25) and three from senior Clayton Terry (No. 23). The defense also produced four tackles for losses (2 each for Irvin and West), two caused fumbles (one apiece for Irvin and West) and a quarterback sack by Irvin. Additionally, the defense had three pass break-ups, all by Terry, and an interception by senior Marlon Warren (No. 14).

Following a scoreless first quarter, Alto’s quarterback West hit senior receiver Warren for the first touchdown of the night, just 17 seconds into the second quarter. Sophomore Julio Serrano (No. 4) sailed the ball between the uprights for the extra point and a 7-0 Jacket lead.

Westwood’s next possession went three and out with the punt returning control of the ball to Alto on the Panther’s 40 yard-line. In just a handful of plays, the Jackets were again within striking distance. Senior running back Aaron Skinner (No. 8) scored on a short run up the middle with 8:35 remaining in the quarter. With a seemingly effortless two-point conversion, the Jackets were up 15-0.

The Panthers fared better on their next possession. Rushing from the 10 yard line, Westwood scored their first touchdown with 6:46 remaining in the half. A successful PAT for the Panthers resulted in a 15-7 score, diminishing the Jackets’ lead. With Alto again on offense, a series of downs carried the team to the six yard line. Junior running back Vi’Darious High (No. 2) crossed the goal line with a mere 1:30 remaining in the quarter. Another successful kick from Serrano and the Jackets would take a commanding half-time lead, 22-7.

Westwood received the second half kickoff and in a drive that lasted two minutes and 17 seconds, the Panthers scored on a four-yard run. The failed extra kick drifted low and the score remained 22-13. The Panthers recovered the ball on the kickoff and capitalized on their good fortune. The Yellowjacket defense held Westwood in the red zone for three straight plays, but eventually a defensive penalty gave the Panthers first and goal from the six-yard-line. Although Alto remained in the lead, it took the Panthers only two more plays to cross the goal line. The attempt by the kicker got the ball through the uprights, bringing the score within two points, 22-20.

Alto’s next possession resulted in a turnover, giving the Panthers the ball on their own 49 yard line. On Westwood’s third down, however, Warren snagged an errant pass. The interception gave the Jackets the opportunity to increase their lead, one which fortune must have smiled on. A forward fumble into the end zone was recovered by Warren for the Alto touchdown. Although the PAT failed, the Jackets had gained the 28-22 lead.

The Panthers had an opportunity to score late in the fourth quarter. With less than three minutes on the clock and fewer than ten yards to go, a defensive stand by Alto prevented the touchdown which would have tied the game. The final frame remained scoreless and Alto claimed the victory.

The Yellowjackets will take to the road this weekend, traveling to Timpson to take on the Bears (0-1) Friday, Sept. 6. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.