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Football: Toppers roll to big season-opening victory

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By Mike Cote

A dominating performance at the line of scrimmage in its 2010 season opener propelled the Los Alamos Hilltopper football team to a big win.

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The Hilltoppers held the visiting Pojoaque Elks to just 82 yards total offense Friday night, the bulk of that total coming on the Elks’ first play from scrimmage, as they rolled to a big 40-0 victory at Sullivan Field.

Meanwhile, Los Alamos forced three Pojoaque turnovers, the second a pick-six by Christopher Owens who scampered 37 yards after intercepting a swing pass and taking it to the endzone down the left sideline. Owens’ touchdown, at the 2:15 mark of the third quarter essentially put the game out of reach at that point.

Friday’s win came in the debut of new Los Alamos head coach Garett Williams, who is taking over the reins held for two decades by Bob Scott.

Although defensive lineman Travis Milligan, a big part of the domination on both sides of the line Friday, was happy to get the win, he knew there wouldn’t be a lot of time to celebrate with the third-ranked Aztec Tigers due to hit town this week.

“It’s going to be a tough game,” Milligan said. “But if we come out here and do our job, if we fix our mistakes, the penalties, we can win.”

While Los Alamos turned in a big showing Friday, it was hardly without miscues. Los Alamos was flagged 10 times in the first half, including two penalties that negated touchdowns.

Los Alamos would ultimately get one of those touchdowns back, but a hold in the middle of the field on a 52-yard interception return right at the end of the half might have proved costly.

However, with the game’s outcome still up in the air heading into the second half, the Hilltopper defense held on the first Elk possession of the third quarter. David Brock dropped Pojoaque’s Carlos Vigil for an 8-yard loss on the first play of the quarter and the Elks ultimately ended up punting.

The Elks (0-1) spent most of the offseason trying to adjust to the new system of head coach Patrick Rodriguez. Rodriguez was hired just last month to replace Quevin Redding, a former coach at Los Alamos Middle School.

Redding had some success at Pojoaque, guiding the team in 2009 to a 6-5 record and a spot in the Class AAA playoffs.

Rodriguez, who has coached under Chad Roanhaus at both Las Vegas Robertson and New Mexico Highlands, said things went a little slow during the team’s preseason workouts but he doesn’t fault his players’ effort.

“They work very hard for me,” Rodriguez said. “They’ve done everything I’ve asked. We’re a little behind with it, particularly the offense...but they never quit. With 10 seconds left (Friday), they ran as hard as they did on the first play.”

Pojoaque started its day with a 53-yard breakaway by Vigil on a well-designed draw up the middle, but spent much of the rest of the night getting hit in the backfield. Vigil ran seven times for 35 yards.

Los Alamos’ defense dropped Pojoaque at or behind the line of scrimmage 14 times Friday. Elk quarterback Ryan Koller, a sophomore, was sacked three times in the game, in the first quarter by Milligan and Ian Snyder, by Cody Vaughan in the second quarter and by Arnoldo Ortiz in the third quarter.

Milligan said the penetration on the defensive side didn’t happen by accident.

“We’ve been working on firing off the ball, keeping control of the gaps and just keeping our eyes on the ball,” he said. “We’re firing through. We’re really happy we could do that.”

On offense, Balog, the first starting quarterback the Hilltoppers have had with significant varsity experience in several seasons, connected on 4 of 11 pass attempts for 62 yards and two touchdowns.

In the first quarter, Balog lofted a throw to John Janke on a dead run for 52 yards, giving the Hilltoppers a 12-0 lead late in the first quarter. Balog would later find Owens in the endzone for a 4-yard strike.

Balog did the majority of his damage Friday with his legs, however. He ran for a game-high 96 yards on 14 carries, including a 26-yard touchdown on a rollout scramble late in the contest.

Los Alamos rolled up 274 yards total offense Friday, 220 of it coming on the ground.