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Early this season, the Los Alamos Hilltopper football team’s defense struggled to slow down opposing offenses.
Friday, however, the Hilltoppers came up with the big plays when they were needed in pitching a shutout against the Farmington Scorpions.
Los Alamos forced two turnovers and stopped Farmington on four fourth-down attempts in a 12-0 nondistrict win at Sullivan Field.
The first turnover of the game, a fumble recovery by linebacker Blaine Lattin forced by tackle Erin McMath on the Scorpions’ first possession, ended up being the most important play of the contest.
Farmington moved the ball on the opening possession 51 yards to the Los Alamos 14 before McMath stripped fullback Allan McGee at the 12.
“At the beginning, we had to figure out what they were doing,” Lattin said. “But we got into the rhythm of the game. We woke up.”
Meanwhile, the Hilltopper offense scored twice in the second quarter. Quarterback Zach Mang dove into the end zone from a yard out midway through the quarter, then running back David Brock broke off a 63-yard touchdown run with just 2:04 remaining for the other score.
Beyond the two Los Alamos scoring drives and the first Farmington drive, the two offenses struggled to move the ball. In the second half, the two teams gained just 105 yards put together.
“We didn’t look good in the second half offensively,” Los Alamos head coach Bob Scott said after watching his squad pick up just 42 yards after halftime. “I don’t know why we struggled, but I guess I can’t complain. We got a ‘W.’”
Friday’s victory was the second straight for Los Alamos (4-3). Prior to that win and the previous week’s 48-0 drubbing of Taos, Los Alamos had lost three straight.
Los Alamos has been able to grab some much-needed momentum heading into its next game, Friday at home against Bernalillo. Bernalillo isn’t only District 2AAAA’s most improved team this season, it also has an ax to grind with the Hilltoppers following a 95-point loss in 2007.
Friday’s game marked the return of star running back Raul Rodriguez to the lineup. Rodriguez missed the previous two games with a hairline ankle fracture he suffered in practice inadvertently stepping into a gopher hole.
Prior to the injury, Rodriguez was among the Class AAAA leaders in rushing. Friday, he finished with 75 yards on 18 carries (4.2-yard average). In the first half, Rodriguez limped off the field and sat out for several plays before returning.
Scott said Rodriguez will very likely have problems with his ankle for the rest of the season.
“It’s never going to be not sore,” he said. “He stepped up. He was slated to be out for three weeks and he came back in two-and-a-half.”
But the Hilltopper defense was the hero of the contest.
Los Alamos was forced to punt after a three-and-out on the opening possession of the second half. Farmington’s Cody Montgomery fielded the ball at his own 40 and ran the ball back to the Los Alamos 47, putting the Hilltopper defense in a tough spot.
But Los Alamos’ defense was up to the challenge. On fourth-and-two, Jourdan McNeal tried to go off left tackle but was met with a host of Hilltoppers and was stuffed at the line of scrimmage.
Los Alamos’ other forced turnover of the game came just three plays after a Rodriguez fumble at the Hilltopper 25.
With 10:08 left in the game and Los Alamos clinging to its two-touchdown lead, Kelly Hutchins picked off a Tyler Hough fade pass, outleaping intended receiver Daniel Lacey in the end zone.
Lattin gave a big share of the defense’s success to the defensive line, which along with holding the Scorpions’ running game in check most of the night, but also put heavy pressure on Hough throughout the contest.
Lattin recorded one of the two Hilltopper sacks in the contest, with Thomas LeBrun picking up the other.
“The defensive line stepped it up so good,” he said. “A lot of credit goes to the defensive line.”
The Scorpions (2-5) picked up just 151 yards offense Friday.
Hough completed just 6 of 17 attempted passes for 59 yards. Mang, meanwhile, attempted just one pass on the game, which was incomplete.
Brock, who finished with 187 yards a week earlier against Taos, had a game-high 116 yards on 14 carries. Brock has picked up the bulk of the running load since Rodriguez was slowed by his injury.
NOTES: Farmington beat Española Valley 68-0 Oct. 3. Los Alamos and Española Valley meet Oct. 31 in a 2AAAA game ... Los Alamos’ leading receiver, Corey Clark, is due to return from suspension for the Española Valley game ... Capital edged Bernalillo Friday 31-26 at Bernalillo. Capital improved to 2-0 in 2AAAA while Bernalillo dropped to 0-1.