Football: Toppers impressive in opener

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By Mike Cote

SANTA FE — Corey Clark made the announcement that he’s back in New Mexico.

No word yet if the rest of the state’s prep football teams heard, but St. Michael’s certainly did Saturday.

Clark scored three touchdowns on his return to the Los Alamos Hilltopper football team in its opener against the Horsemen of St. Michael’s.

The senior, who played football in Colorado Springs, Colo., last season after spending his sophomore season with the Hilltoppers, caught a pair of first-half touchdown passes from quarterback Zach Mang, then broke loose for a 55-yard touchdown scamper in the second half to seal Los Alamos’ 28-6 win at Brother Abdon Field.

In his two previous seasons, Clark became a feared defensive back in both states, picking off nine passes in 2006 and 11 in Colorado in 2007.

There was some question about exactly how many interceptions he had in 2006. While head coach Bob Scott insists the figure of nine is correct, Clark recollects 10 picks.

“I counted it as 10, but nine is alright with me, I guess,” Clark said. “Coach has them on tape.”

While Clark turned in a big performance, it was hardly the only one turned in by a Hilltopper Saturday. Both the Hilltopper offense and defense had big days in the team’s season opening victory.

Los Alamos grinded out 351 yards total offense Saturday, a big chunk of that provided by Mang.

Mang, making his first start at quarterback and having the extra pressure of trying to roll out a new offensive look on top of it, went 7-for-11 passing for 119 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions and rushed for 75 yards on 14 carries, capping the game with a 12-yard scoring scamper with 4:36 left to play.

Defensively, Los Alamos got off to a slow start, giving up a quick touchdown to St. Mike’s on its first possession of the contest and allowing a long drive at the end of the first quarter which got the Horsemen down to the Los Alamos 11-yard line.

The game would swing on one of the final plays of the quarter, however.

With the Horsemen just 11 yards away from tying the game at 12-all, Los Alamos’ Brad Picard would drop St. Mike’s halfback Russell Disch for a 4-yard loss on an attempted sweep.

Things went south for the Horsemen offense from that point on. The Horsemen totaled 104 yards offense on their first two drives before Picard’s tackle-for-loss and 70 yards after it and wouldn’t seriously threaten to score again.

“We were a little disappointed in how we came out on defense,” Los Alamos head coach Bob Scott said of the first Horsemen drive. “We were a little sluggish. The guys weren’t coming off the ball hard…It was nice to see them come back after starting out slow.”

Los Alamos never trailed in Saturday’s ballgame, taking its first possession into the endzone. Mang led the offense down to the St. Michael’s 5-yard line, then hit Clark on a short crossing route right at the goal line. Clark just got the ball over the stripe to give the Hilltoppers a 6-0 lead with less than four minutes expired.

Two possessions after St. Michael’s score — running back Manuel Trujillo bulled his way into the endzone from 13 yards out with 5:18 to play in the opening quarter — Mang dropped a pass right into Clark’s arms as Clark raced down the right sideline, blowing by two St. Michael’s defensive backs for a 74-yard touchdown.

“I got out and waited for the ball to come down,” Clark said of the reception. “Zach put it in there perfectly. You couldn’t put it in there any better than that.”

It would be the first taste the Horsemen would get of Clark’s speed — he’s been timed as fast as 4.4 seconds for 40 yards — but not the last.

With Los Alamos still clinging to a 6-point lead late in the third quarter, Clark took a pitch right, then cut back left after getting past the St. Michael’s linebackers and would go 55 yards for his third score of the contest.

On the other side of the ball, the Horsemen (1-1) continued their offensive struggles against the Hilltopper defense, which brought heavy pressure right at sophomore quarterback Michael Wiegel. Wiegel would get sacked twice in the game, once by Marshall Naranjo and once by Thomas LeBrun, as well as getting intercepted by Mang early in the fourth quarter.

Joey Martinez would thump Wiegel in the first quarter as he was releasing a fourth down pass, ending the final Horsemen scoring threat.

After Wiegel completed his first four pass attempts, he would finish 8-for-21 throwing.

Scott said that his team simply outlasted the young Horsemen squad.

“I think we just wore them down some,” Scott said. “It makes me feel good about our conditioning program.”

Saturday’s win marked the 13th win for the Hilltoppers in 17 tries during Scott’s 19 seasons leading the team, including a 22-14 victory in 2007, St. Mike’s only defeat in its run to a state Class AAA championship.

Los Alamos and St. Michael’s first played each other in 1953.

NOTES: Hilltopper running back Raul Rodriguez rushed for 74 yards on 11 carries Saturday ... Rodriguez, Los Alamos’ top rusher in 2007, left the game halfway through the third quarter with a cramp but returned in the final quarter ... Los Alamos hasn’t lost to St. Michael’s since 2003.