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A win is a win, but there’s still a long way to go for the Los Alamos Hilltopper football team.
In their second game of the season Friday night at Sullivan Field, the Hilltoppers jumped out to a 10-0 lead over the Santa Fe Demons, but things got hairy late in the second quarter.
With the Hilltoppers still holding on to their 10-point edge and seeming to have everything going there way, Santa Fe quarterback Jason Fitzpatrick connected with receiver Ryan Fitzpatrick on a go-route down the right sideline. Ryan Fitzpatrick went untouched for 82 yards and a score with 30 seconds left before halftime.
And while the Demons had open receivers throughout Friday night’s ballgame, Fitzpatrick’s receiver corps dropped five balls, two more of which might have gone for touchdowns.
Those drops, combined with a defensive touchdown, a safety and a field goal in the first quarter — the first offensive points of the season for Los Alamos — helped the Hilltoppers to a 12-6 victory.
“It feels good to get the first one,” Hilltopper quarterback Kory Balog said after the game. “We didn’t play as well as we could. We made way too many mistakes.”
Balog, who took over the starting quarterback job this week in place of Ryan Schleft, who moved over to the wing, steered the Los Alamos offense to 214 total yards, a far-sight better than the 70 yards the Hilltoppers managed a week earlier.
While the offense only accounted for the field goal — a 38-yard boot by Wes Osborn late in the first quarter — it had a clock-killing, 6:11 drive in the fourth quarter with Balog leading the way.
The Hilltoppers escaped a potential game-tying touchdown in the fourth with two straight Demon dropped balls that could’ve both gone for big yardage. The Demons’ punt coming after the drive stalled at the Santa Fe 47-yard line pinned the Hilltoppers back at their own 8.
After a first-down play that lost two yards, running back Cody Vaughn squirted out of a stacked line of scrimmage and went 19 yards to give Los Alamos some breathing room.
Then Balog took over. Balog kept the ball for five of the next seven rushing plays. The final rush of that series was the most impressive, with Balog toting the ball 18 yards, 8 of which came after initial contact and the last 5 dragging three Santa Fe defenders on his back.
The game ended on Balog’s 18th rush of the game, an 8-yard pickup which sealed the victory.
“We just wanted to burn the clock, take as much time as we could,” Balog said of the final drive. “The line played great. They played really well as a team.”
For the contest, Balog finished with 81 yards, tying him with Schleft for the top total of the ballgame.
Not all went according to plan, however.
Following the Sept. 4 contest with St. Michael’s, Los Alamos head coach Bob Scott was chagrinned owing to a slew of penalties on his team. Friday’s game was no better, with the Hilltoppers getting hit for 14 penalties, mostly false starts and illegal procedures.
“We should’ve had 300 yards on offense,” Scott said. “It was one step forward, two steps back. It’s like a bad dance.”
Los Alamos scored its first points of the season at the 9:25 mark of the first quarter. Hilltopper defensive end Joey Martinez stepped right in the middle of a Santa Fe quick slant attempt, receiving the ball right in the numbers and running it back 9 yards for the touchdown.
Martinez would also help the Hilltoppers on their other defensive score of the contest.
Getting into the backfield quickly on a straight rush, Martinez forced Fitzpatrick over to his right straight to defensive tackle Travis Milligan at the goal line. Milligan held Fitzpatrick up and Martinez finished Fitzpatrick off two yards in the end zone for a safety.
Fitzpatrick, who finished 6-for-18 for 116 yards in the air, was under some heavy pressure all night, both from the Hilltopper defensive front and from defensive back Kyle Stephens blitzing off the corner. Fitzpatrick was sacked three times.
The Demons (0-3) not only couldn’t catch Fitzpatrick’s throws, they also couldn’t run the football. They managed just 68 yards on the ground, 16 in the first half on nine rushes.
Tailback Jesse Ulibarri had 29 yards on 8 carries to lead the Demons, who have been outscored 89-21 so far this season.
Los Alamos (1-1) and Santa Fe rarely go a year without facing each other and will be District 2AAAA foes next season as Santa Fe drops down from Class 5A.
NOTES: Balog completed 1 of 3 pass attempts, a 7-yard reception by Stephens ... Schleft finished with 71 yards on 7 carries in the first half, including a 30-yard scamper late in the second quarter ... Los Alamos fumbled five times in the game, losing none, and muffed a punt in the first quarter.