Football: LA taking on its toughest opponent in quarterfinals

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By Mike Cote

A team that has on its roster the leading rusher in the state is a team to be leery of. So is a team with the leading passer in the state.

The Aztec Tigers have both.

Saturday, the Los Alamos Hilltopper football team will face an offensive juggernaut in the Aztec Tigers. The two face off in the Class AAAA quarterfinals at 2 p.m. The game will be held at Fred Cook Stadium in Aztec.

Aztec, the lone undefeated program in Class AAAA this season (10-0) boasts running back Mike Hathcock and quarterback Brycson King, who have rolled up about 5,000 yards combined this season.

Those two led the Tigers, the most prolific offense in the state, to an amazing 50.4 points per game and a title in District 1AAAA, one of the toughest districts in the state.

This may seem like a daunting task, but the Hilltoppers (8-3) are feeling fairly confident heading in.

The two teams’ most recent meeting was in 2006, a game that, likely, neither has forgotten.

In a wild contest between a pair of heavyweights, the Hilltoppers edged the Tigers 28-27. The decisive plays of the game were a late touchdown run by then-quarterback Alex Twibell with 9:39 to play, and a botched Aztec snap on a point-after attempt with just five seconds remaining.

During a brief meeting following Los Alamos’ win over the Moriarty Pintos last week, Hilltopper head coach Bob Scott joked to Aztec head coach Brad Hirsch that they needed to flip a coin to determine who would host the game — standard practice for the playoffs when there’s some doubt as to the appropriate site. Hirsch told Scott in no uncertain terms that a coin-flip would not be forthcoming.

The Hilltoppers did visit Aztec during the preseason for a scrimmage, but neither team is putting much stock into that meeting nearly four months ago.

“Aztec is good, no doubt,” Scott said. “I’m looking forward to playing them again. We know what they’re about. We’re all looking forward to it.”

Los Alamos’ win over Moriarty last Friday put it into Saturday’s quarterfinal round contest with the second-seeded Tigers. That win, Los Alamos’ sixth straight after starting off with a 2-3 mark, ranked among the team’s best performances of the season.

After Moriarty’s opening drive, on which it scored its lone points of the game, Los Alamos looked dominant. Los Alamos took full control of the contest in the second half behind rushers Raul Rodriguez (15 carries, 123 yards, 8.2 yards per carry average) and Corey Clark (12 carries, 140 yards, 11.7 average).

“There’s no secret,” Los Alamos quarterback said following the win. “We’re starting to put things together at the right time…we have so much speed we can just run over them. It’s no secret, just power football.”

Mang, who has had a solid season in his first year as starting quarterback, was also named the District 2AAAA Defensive Player of the Year this week (see related story at left).

The pressure will be on Los Alamos’ defense to slow down the Tigers’ offense — holding them to anything less than their season-low 38 points would be an accomplishment.

In 2008, Los Alamos’ defense has pitched three shutouts and held opponents to under 20 points two other times.

Offensively, Los Alamos will have to continue rolling as it has been since the start of the 2AAAA season. The Aztec defense is no slouch, either, having held opponents to just over two touchdowns a game.

The Hilltoppers have scored 24 points or better in five of the six games on their current winning streak — Farmington, Aztec’s 1AAAA foe, held Los Alamos to just 12 points at Sullivan Field Oct. 17.

Few are giving the Hilltoppers much of a chance in this contest, especially since the Tigers had a bye last week to the quarterfinals, but that seems to be OK with a lot of guys around the team.

“I’m feeling we’re the dark horse,” Mang said. “Aztec is excellent, but this year especially, we’ve got some ballplayers.”