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Football: LA falls in critical district contest

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By Mike Cote

BERNALILLO — Fighting the good fight kept the Los Alamos Hilltoppers in Friday night’s game, but it wasn’t enough to keep the team in the thick of the district hunt.

Los Alamos dropped a big contest Friday night against the Bernalillo Spartans. The Spartans scored on their opening drive and on a late second quarter drive, which was enough to give them a 14-0 victory.

Unless Bernalillo stumbles hard in its final two games of the season, Friday’s loss probably puts the Hilltoppers out of the running for a berth in the Class AAAA playoffs, which they haven’t missed since 2002.

Los Alamos’ defense had one of its best showings of the season against a hard-nosed, smash-mouth Bernalillo running attack. Bernalillo got only a couple of runs straight up the middle that were of any consequence and did very little trying to run outside.

“I thought they did really well,” Hilltopper head coach Bob Scott said. “I’m really pleased with my kids playing on defense...the kids played really well. They were firing on all cylinders.”

Bernalillo, which has rolled up 129 points on its current five-game win streak, managed just 142 yards offensively Friday and just 3 yards in the second half.

Friday’s game was billed by the Spartans and their fans as the biggest regular season contest in the history of Bernalillo football. Bernalillo’s program, which was actually on hiatus for the early part of this decade, has taken its lumps in recent years but is now controls its own destiny in District 2AAAA.

In consecutive weeks, Bernalillo (5-3) has knocked off the 2007 district champion, Capital, and the reigning champion Hilltoppers.

“We really felt the winner of this game had a great chance to go on and win district,” Spartan head coach Ken Noel said. “There’s been a lot of firsts for this program this year. It was the first time we’ve beaten a (Class) 5A school, the first time we’ve beaten a ranked team and the first time we’ve beaten Capital and Los Alamos.”

For Los Alamos (2-6), its offense showed some spark, particularly on a late-game drive, but also showed its vulnerabilities as well.

Hilltopper head coach Bob Scott said due to injuries, illness and other problems, he’s had to shift personnel around on his staring offensive line. That has made things difficult for the offense.

The big blow of the contest for Los Alamos came in the third quarter following an interception by Wade Archuleta at the Bernalillo 15-yard line.

With Los Alamos needing just one score to get back in the ballgame, Los Alamos drove straight backwards, from the 15 to the Bernalillo 48 in six plays, owing to three penalties, including one of two Los Alamos unsportsmanlike conduct penalties that the team was flagged for Friday night.

Los Alamos head coach Bob Scott said he was less than thrilled with the officiating Friday night and the officiating crew let the game’s physicality get out-of-hand several times in the contest.

Neither team was able to move the ball much following the initial drive of the contest by Bernalillo, a methodical, 70-yard touchdown march that chewed up nearly 7-1/2 minutes. The drive was capped by fullback Ivan Luna’s dive from 2 yards out.

On the Spartans’ other scoring drive of the night, quarterback Alan Favela hit running back James Roy on a 43-yard completion — Roy had to catch the go-route pass off his left shoulder — setting the Spartans up at the Hilltopper 8.

The Spartans scored three players later.

“We had a few mess-ups, really few, but they were able to capitalize,” Hilltopper defensive back David Brock said. “We did what we could.”

The Hilltoppers’ struggles on offense this season showed through most of Friday night’s game. The Hilltoppers, owing to penalties, managed just 76 yards against the Spartans, 52 of those coming on their final offensive possession of the night.

With just 2:39 remaining and Los Alamos in desperation mode, junior quarterback Kory Balog completed three straight passes to get Los Alamos from its own 5 to the Bernalillo 45. Balog would throw a late interception on his next attempt, however, to end the Hilltoppers’ night.

With the Hilltoppers now on the brink of elimination from playoff contention — four losses to Class AAAA teams this season nullifies any realistic hope for an at-large bid — Brock said Los Alamos isn’t going quietly heading into the final two games of the season.

“It is a district game and they beat us, but we’ve got to go out hard,” Brock said. “(The Spartans) could lose, so we’ve got to go out hard and hope for the best.”

Brock, Cody Vaughn and David Knapp, among several others, came up big for the Hilltoppers on defense, while Joey Martinez had one of his best punting performances of the season.

“We’ve got to just keep working hard,” Scott said. “They’re sad. That’s understandable. But I told them the sun comes up in the same spot every day. For our seniors’ sake, for our younger kids’ sake, we’ve got to finish it out.”

In the other District 2AAAA contest played Friday night, the host Capital Jaguars held off the Taos Tigers 29-22 despite committing five turnovers.