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SANTA FE – It was another decisive win at the top end of the season for the Los Alamos Hilltopper football team.
That’s not to say there isn’t plenty to work on, however.
The Hilltoppers picked up their second big road win in as many chances Friday, thumping the Santa Fe Demons 50-27 at Ivan Head Stadium.
But for the second straight outing, the Hilltoppers gave up a quick, early touchdown and struggled to convert point-after attempts following their own scores.
While Hilltopper head coach Bob Scott noted that neither of those two things ended up being a big deal in the endgame Friday, nor in the previous week’s 28-6 win at St. Michael’s, there will come a time when they could be the difference between a win and a loss.
“You make those conversions, that’s 60 points,” Scott said.
Scott said he was unhappy with some big plays the Hilltoppers gave up Friday night as well, including a 65-yard run by Demon running back Anthony Ratliff on Santa Fe’s second play from scrimmage and a kickoff run back 80 yards by Demon return man Isaiah Anaya.
But the Hilltoppers came up with plenty of big plays, too, more than a few of them provided by Raul Rodriguez.
Rodriguez had four carries of 10-plus yards in the first half Friday, including a 57-yard touchdown on the second play of the game, rolling to 195 rushing yards in the opening half.
His grand total of 235 yards nearly equaled his career-best total of 240 yards set last season against Albuquerque Academy.
“I felt like I was running good,” Rodriguez said. “I’m making cuts...everything’s feeling really good. I’m feeling strong. I’ve been in the weight room putting on weight. I feel stronger and faster. It’s really good.”
Santa Fe’s defense saw how good Rodriguez was feeling early. Rodriguez darted through a seam on the left side for a first down on Los Alamos’ first offensive play of the game, then on the next play, the senior took an inside handoff, bounced out to the left and exploded down the sideline, whizzing past the Demon secondary to put the Hilltoppers up 6-0 with just 40 seconds expired.
It was the first of three touchdowns for Rodriguez, who would run in from 4 yards out and catch a 21-yard touchdown pass from Zach Mang in the final quarter.
There was a scary moment for the Hilltoppers after Rodriguez’s catch. On an extra-point attempt, Rodriguez was hit in the ankle with a helmet, although he said it felt fine after the game.
Rodriguez combined for more than half of Los Alamos’ 487 yards total offense Friday.
On the other end, the Demons had 255 yards total offense. The Demon offensive effort was led by Ratliff (10 rushes, 97 yards) and lefty quarterback Richard Pacheco (8-for-22 passing, 173 yards).
Pacheco had to earn everything he got from the Los Alamos defense, however. He was sacked four times in the ballgame, three times by defensive tackle Marshall Naranjo.
From his “go” slot, Naranjo was able to pin his ears back and head straight for Pacheco, giving him several licks throughout the night.
“We’re coming through the gap more,” Naranjo said of the defense’s ability to get into opponents’ backfields. “The gap’s been really successful. That’s the best way to get to the quarterback. It’s definitely the best way to go.”
Additionally, Naranjo had three other tackles-for-loss in the contest.
Erin McMath added another sack in the second half, and Austin Wolstein assisted on one of Naranjo’s sacks in the second quarter.
The defense procured three takeaways on the night, as well. Brad Picard and Corey Clark intercepted Pacheco twice in the second quarter, both picks killing promising Santa Fe drives. Naranjo fell on a fumble at the Los Alamos 20 late in the third quarter, stopping another Demon scoring chance.
Los Alamos led 26-6 at halftime, but a deftly-executed hook-and-ladder, with initial receiver Joseph Sandoval feeding Ratliff down the right sideline, went for a 55-yard touchdown with just over a minute expired, cutting the lead down to two scores.
The Hilltoppers would answer, however, with a 10-play, 65-yard drive that ate up 5:05 and sapped whatever momentum the Demons had built-up following the hook-and-ladder.
The big play of the drive was a 35-yard reception by Picard from Mang on the left sideline, that coming on a third-and-15 play from the Los Alamos 30.
Mang finished the game 5 of 10 throwing for 124 yards.
He completed all four of his second half attempts, but was also picked off twice in the first half.
Mang also ran 18 times for 61 yards and two scores.
Los Alamos will make its first home appearance of the season Friday when it takes on Silver, a team that had several returning starters this season but has so far disappointed, losing all three of its 2008 outings.