Football: Toppers advance with 35-7 win

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By Mike Cote

Just in case senior Zach Mang was running low on motivation, which he never is, he only had to look back about a year to find it.

He clearly remembered the sting of two lopsided losses in 2007, the only two losses suffered by the Los Alamos Hilltopper football team in that campaign. But in 2008, he has had a chance to set those losses straight and was going to take full advantage of those.

“I like to call it my pocket full of payback,” he said, talking about the big losses to Capital and Moriarty last season. “They kicked the snot out of us.”

But Mang, Los Alamos’ quarterback entering the final phase of his prep career, has gotten those two games back in consecutive weeks.

After engineering a 14-point comeback just a week earlier against Capital’s Jaguars to help his team take back the District 2AAAA championship it lost in 2007, Mang helped his team to a big 35-7 win over the team that knocked it out of the 2007 state AAAA playoffs, the Moriarty Pintos.

Los Alamos rolled up 425 yards on offense Friday, taking complete control over a tight ballgame in the second half against a short-handed and short-winded Pinto offense.

Mang said memories the 37-0 drubbing the Hilltoppers took at the hands of the Pintos at Sullivan Field in the first round of the playoffs still stung heading into Friday night’s game at the same venue.

What was worst about it, he said, was that he felt the effort in that game simply wasn’t there, mirroring comments made by Los Alamos head coach Bob Scott heading into Friday night’s first round contest.

“There was a letdown,” Mang said. “People wanted to quit. We had no heart.”

But he said his team has shown him plenty of heart in 2008, coming back from a 2-3 start to the season and numerous on-field and off-field setbacks, one of which he himself was snakebitten by before winning his re-instatement from Los Alamos Public Schools just two weeks later.

In Friday’s contest, Mang found his favorite target, teammate Corey Clark, for a pair of first quarter touchdown tosses, the first in the first quarter on Los Alamos’ second offensive play of the game, a swing pass good for 72 yards down the left sideline, answering an impressive opening drive put together by Moriarty. Clark made one move on a Pinto safety at about the 40-yard line then blew down the field without challenge to tie the score at 7-7.

Mang hit Clark at the goal line from 14 yards out with just 3.7 seconds remaining in the opening quarter. Clark was wide open on a seam route — the same route on which he caught a big touchdown against Española Valley in Los Alamos — home game Oct. 3`.

Weston Osborn’s point-after made the score 14-7, where it stood until halftime.

Despite just getting the one score on its first possession, Moriarty (5-6) move the ball deep into Los Alamos territory twice more in the first half.

To open the second quarter, Moriarty put together another grinding drive starting at its own 28 and going all the way down to the Los Alamos 10. A holding penalty pushed Moriarty back to the Los Alamos 21.

On the next play, Pinto quarterback Mario Rodriguez, a sophomore starting in place of injured junior Nick Gonzales, who suffered a broken leg in the District 5AAAA championship game against Del Norte a week earlier, had his pass into the end zone picked off by Clark.

Clark, who was giving up six inches to Moriarty wide out Pat Corr, stretched out and took the ball away from Corr, ripping it out of his grip on the way to the ground.

It was a big night for Clark, who is making his impact felt in the late part of the season with the Hilltoppers. Clark, who caught the decisive touchdown pass last week against Capital, scored four times in Friday’s playoff contest. He finished with a pair of rushing touchdowns in the second half, one from 51 yards and one from 24 yards to help put the game away.

He finished with 140 yards on 12 carries, 136 of those yards coming in the second half.

“He’s making the best of his comeback,” Scott said. “He had to sit out four ballgames, but he came back with some fire.”

Corr would get the interception back that he lost to Clark with just 1:35 remaining in the half, returning it 50 yards to the Hilltopper 18 before fumbling. The fumble was recovered by Moriarty.

Rodriguez would throw his second of three interceptions on the last play of the half, with Ryan Schleft catching the ball in the crowded right side of the end zone.

Moriarty’s valiant first half effort wouldn’t translate into the second half, however. The Pintos were low on substitutions going into Friday’s game — seven regulars were out with injuries — and had two more players go down.

The Pintos garnered just 85 yards of offense in the second half to 250 yards by Los Alamos.

Raul Rodriguez had 123 yards on 15 carriers, including a 36-yard touchdown scamper, cutting from the left to the middle of the field, breaking two tackles on the way. Rodriguez’s score gave the Hilltoppers a 21-7 lead with less than three minutes expired in the second half.

Mang finished with 120 yards in the air and the two touchdown passes.

His best pass of the game, however, might have been to Zak Wilde running an 8-yard out on third-and-13. Wilde, coming out of the backfield, grabbed the pass mid-stride and ran over a Pinto defensive back to pick up an important first down by the length of the football.

With the first down, the Hilltoppers were able to sustain a drive that took nearly four minutes off the clock, effectively ending any hope of a late Pinto comeback.

Friday night’s win was the sixth-straight for the Hilltoppers (8-3), who will advance to the state AAAA quarterfinals for the second time in three seasons.

NOTES: Moriarty’s touchdown was set up by a halfback option from Ray Herrera to Corr which went for 16 yards down to the Los Alamos 16 ... Corr finished with three catches for 31 yards ... Osborn was a perfect 5-for-5 in extra points Friday. Los Alamos had struggled with conversions all season but Osborn has kicked well the last three games … In the other Class AAAA semifinals played Friday night, ninth-seeded Piedra Vista nipped eighth-seeded Del Norte 28-27 and fifth-seeded Kirtland Central thumped 12th-seeded Capital 54-24.