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SANTA FE – Things got plenty hairy at the end, but the Los Alamos Hilltopper football team hung on to win a crucial District 2-4A contest Friday night.
Despite craziness at the end of the contest, the Hilltoppers earned a 30-20 victory Friday night at Ivan Head Stadium and are now just two wins away from their first district title since 2008.
Los Alamos scored four touchdowns, each by four different players, to earn the victory, but Los Alamos had to sweat things out at the end.
“That was quite a relief,” said Hilltopper offensive and defensive lineman Alan Dahl. “In the past few years we’d lose. We lost to Bernalillo. This year, these two games (Bernalillo and Santa Fe) define how we’re going to do and we win both.”
The two teams both came into the game under similar circumstances, having won three of their previous four contests, gutting out one victory and rolling in the other two. There were plenty of other similarities, too, including the style of play and even using similar formations on offense.
The difference came down to execution.
“The interior defense did a good job of running to the ball,” Los Alamos head coach Garett Williams said. “Offensively, we took advantage of what they were going to give us. We ran the option. We were able to come out and execute the option and make the plays when we needed them.”
Hilltopper fullback Arnoldo Ortiz, who reached the 200-yard rushing mark in each of the previous two games, had another huge night Friday. Ortiz, who toted the ball 33 times, piled up 179 yards and scored a touchdown in the second quarter from 15-yards out.
Meanwhile, freshman wingback Jared Mang ran for 109 yards on just eight carries and a touchdown in the third quarter.
With Los Alamos holding a 10-point edge late in the fourth quarter, the Santa Fe Demons drove deep into Hilltopper territory.
Then things started to get weird.
Santa Fe quarterback Jordan Booth-Homer scrambled all the way across the field to dive into the end zone for an apparent touchdown, but the play was called back for a chop block on the Demons.
Over the course of the next three snaps, the Demons ended up with a fourth-and-goal from their 42-yard line. Los Alamos’ Seth Drop intercepted Booth-Homer’s desperation fourth-down pass, but Los Alamos was flagged for roughing the passer, giving the Demons an automatic first down.
With new life thanks to the penalty, Booth-Homer threw another interception two passes later, this one picked off by Jake Downs with 2:41 remaining.
On the next possession, Los Alamos had second-and-1 from its 36-yard line but failed to pick up a first down. The punt by the Hilltoppers at the 1:19 mark netted just eight yards, again giving the Demons a shot from relatively short yardage.
Santa Fe would again get down deep into Los Alamos territory, but time ran out on the Demons as they tried to score from the Hilltopper 5.
“This was one of the strangest, weirdest games I’ve ever been in,” Williams said. “I’m proud of the kids. Even through all this stuff, all these crazy penalties, the kids did a great job of keeping their heads about them.”
Los Alamos’ defense bent but rarely broke – Santa Fe’s lone touchdown in the second half came by way of an 87-yard kickoff return from Moses Montoya.
In the first half, Los Alamos struggled to get pressure on Booth-Homer, who on some dropbacks had in excess of six seconds to throw in the pocket. In the second half, however, Los Alamos’ defensive line finally got some penetration, knocking Booth-Homer down six times and sacking him twice.
Dahl, Grant Washburn and David Knapp recorded sacks. Knapp and Mang, from their linebacker spots, also recovered fumbles in the second half.
Heading into the contest, Santa Fe head coach Raymond Holladay said the team who hung onto the ball better would likely come out victorious. Holladay, however, had to watch from the sidelines as his team cough up the ball three times in the second half, two of which occurred deep in Hilltopper territory and the third near midfield.
Offensively, Los Alamos (4-4 overall, 2-0 in 2-4A) racked up 315 yards on the ground. Ortiz said the offensive line of Dahl, Washburn, Nate Robbins, John Gibson and Peter Brewer has stepped up big over the last five games.
“Our line is doing a great job,” said Ortiz, who had rolled up 585 yards in the past three games. “They’re making whole new lines of scrimmage. There are great holes for me to run through.”
Ortiz piled up the yardage despite getting the lion’s share of attention from the Demon defense.
Friday’s game featured a pair of teams with very good running games. Santa Fe tailback Anthony Abeyta, who will very likely eclipse the 1,000-yard mark this season, was actually the leading rusher in the contest, picking up 195 yards on 17 carries (an 11.5-yard average).
Abeyta had big runs throughout the contest, including plays of 57 and 43 yards.
But the Santa Fe defense was preoccupied with Ortiz. Late in the first quarter, Los Alamos quarterback Danny Finn faked a handoff to Ortiz, who attracted five different would-be tacklers from Santa Fe, and sauntered into the end zone from five yards out to break the scoreless tie.
Santa Fe (3-5 overall, 1-1 in 2-4A) needed just three plays from scrimmage to take the lead. Booth-Homer connected with Montoya on a perfectly-executed “sluggo” route for a 58-yard touchdown strike, grabbing a 7-6 edge.
Downs, however, would return Santa Fe’s kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown to retake the lead, 14-7.
Downs, who earned his way onto the first string defense, has not only helped solidify the Hilltopper secondary, a big question mark heading into the season, but has shown big play-making ability, such as the kick return, on which he broke toward the middle of the field and squirted through a small hole in the Hilltoppers’ wedge.
The victory was the biggest for the Hilltoppers in two seasons under Williams and puts them just two very winnable games away from grabbing the 2-4A title. The Hilltoppers will earn the district crown and an automatic spot in the Class 4A playoffs if they knock off winless squads Española Valley and Capital in successive weeks to close out the regular season.
Ortiz, a junior, wasn’t with the squad the last time it went to the postseason in 2008.
“Coach says there’s nothing like it,” Ortiz said. “He’s super-excited and I am, too.”