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BERNALILLO – A game against two evenly matched teams started as a nip-and-tuck affair, but ended in a rout.
And the routing team, the Los Alamos Hilltoppers, could be in a position at the end of this week to all but sewing-up the District 2-4A title.
Los Alamos opened its district title defense campaign Friday nigh at Spartan Field in Bernalillo, a place Los Alamos has struggled at in the past, to take on Bernalillo’s Spartans, one of three teams along with the Hilltoppers and Santa Fe’s Demons, that appear to have the best crack at earning the 2-4A championship.
The two teams matched each other’s running attack for a good share of the ballgame, but a 95-yard touchdown toss in the third quarter from Hilltopper Brice Van Etten to slotback Seth Drop broke the back of the Spartans.
The Spartans fell apart following the huge play, which put the Hilltoppers up by three scores at the time. The Hilltoppers would break open the game late, giving them a 34-0 victory on the road.
Hilltopper Arnoldo Ortiz, who led all rushers with 116 yards on the contest, said Los Alamos went into Bernalillo Friday ready to win.
“This is the first step to the district championship,” Ortiz said. “There was a lot of effort. We’ve been learning (the Spartans’) defense and offense, but it came down to effort at the end. We put in all the effort we could.”
A combination of big plays by Los Alamos – it had 10 plays of 15 yards or longer – and big negative plays by Bernalillo turned a tight game into a runaway.
The Spartans, who are a deceptive 0-7 on the season, were the rushing equal of the Hilltoppers on offense and moved the ball effectively from one side of the field for most of the night.
Instead of being able to turn that offensive attack into points, however, Bernalillo would make a mistake or be flagged for a key penalty at the most inopportune of moments.
Tempers started to flare on the Spartans’ side in the second half and the team picked up five unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and had its quarterback, Ralf Olguin, and another player ejected late in the fourth quarter.
Problems such as those, Bernalillo head coach Ken Noel said earlier this week, were a big part of the reason the Spartans hadn’t been able to break into the win column in 2012.
Prior to losing his composure, Olguin, a sophomore, put up some impressive rushing numbers. He toted the ball 14 times for 85 yards.
Olguin also completed 6 of 13 pass attempts for 65 yards – almost half that yardage total coming on one play. Olguin threw an interception late in the first half, however, which proved costly for the Spartans.
With under 5 minutes remaining, Olguin was picked off by Drop at his cornerback spot. In 1:25, the Hilltoppers took that turnover and marched 78 yards in 12 plays, capped by a 4-yard Van Etten keeper to make the score 14-0 at the time.
Van Etten, starting the first district contest of his career, scored three rushing touchdowns and had the long strike to Drop.
Van Etten found drop wide open down the right sideline on a 3-and-10 play from the Hilltopper 5-yard line. Drop caught the ball around the 18-yard line and outsprinted two Bernalillo defensive backs for the touchdown.
It was another big night for Drop, who may be without offensive, defensive and special teams partner Jake Downs for the remainder of the season. Drop finished with three catches for 122 yards and scored a rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter on an end-around, a play the Hilltoppers have used very effectively in spots this year.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Hilltoppers led 14-0 at halftime. Bernalillo got the ball to open the third quarter and drove it from its own 26 to the Los Alamos 33, but then started to implode. It fumbled on second-and-6, then, immediately after a near-breakaway run by Nick Reyes, picked up an unsportsmanlike conduct flag that pushed the ball all the way back to the Hilltopper 45.
Los Alamos (4-3, 1-0 in 2-4A) will host Santa Fe (2-4, 1-0), which was a 65-22 winner over Española Valley Friday night. A win for Los Alamos Friday would put the team just two very winnable games away from its second consecutive 2-4A title.
Ortiz, who had a 31-yard run late in the third quarter to set up Van Etten’s third rushing touchdown of the night, said the team is well aware of what’s at stake this week.
“Since the Academy game, we’ve rolled. It’s snowballed,” he said. “We came in today with a lot of confidence and against Santa Fe, we’re going to lay it all on the line up there. We expect a great game. We’re going to give it everything we’ve got. They’re not going to give us the district championship. We’ve got to take it.”
NOTES: The Hilltopper defense picked up its second shutout of the season with Friday’s victory …. Los Alamos also shut out Bernalillo in 2011, winning 38-0 …. The two teams have been involved in shutout games five times since 2006 …. Brian Geyer and Clint Adams combined for a sack of Olguin in the fourth quarter, one of two sacks by Los Alamos on the evening …. The Hilltoppers finished with 412 yards total offense, the Spartans 242 yards.