Football: Toppers travel to face Spartans

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By Mike Cote

Although it’s been a rough go in 2009 for the Los Alamos Hilltopper football team, its season is still very much salvageable.

While Los Alamos has posted just a 2-5 record so far this season, taking some heavy shots to the chin in those five losses, that salvage job can still be handled with a victory Friday on the road. Los Alamos will take on the Bernalillo Spartans Friday night at Bernalillo. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

Not long ago, a date with the Spartans would’ve been about as close to an automatic victory as one might have on its schedule. Not so in 2009.

The Spartans (4-3) are currently the only team in District 2AAAA football that has posted more than two wins and the only team in the district that is not at least three games under .500 heading into this week’s play.

After getting off to a rocky start this season, the Spartans have reeled off four straight victories. Their most recent outing, last Friday at Capital, which some thought might be a knock-down, drag-out affair, turned into a 40-20 rout by the Spartans.

That win immediately cemented Bernalillo as a legitimate threat to grab the 2AAAA title. Capital won the 2007 district title and finished in second place in the district race last season.

Bernalillo, meanwhile, has quickly turned things around. Just two years ago, Bernalillo was decimated by Los Alamos, 95-0, in its final game of the season.

After that game, the Spartans made no bones about the fact they were seeking a measure of payback. That payback nearly came in 2008.

Bernalillo scored twice in the third quarter of the teams’ meeting last season at Sullivan Field, grabbing a 22-18 lead, the first lead it had held over Los Alamos since the two teams joined District 2AAAA in 2005.

With 8:03 left in regulation, running back David Brock hauled in a 13-yard touchdown pass to get Los Alamos the lead back at 24-22. Bernalillo, however, would drive down the field on its next possession and set itself up for a 34-yard field goal attempt with 3:36 left, but a botched hold would cost Bernalillo the field goal chance and went a long way toward spoiling its upset bid.

The Hilltoppers, for their part, have only been involved in one game this season where the outcome has been decided by less than 27 points, their 12-6 victory over Santa Fe in week two. More often than not, the Hilltoppers have been on the wrong side of those decisions.

Los Alamos won two weeks ago, routing Taos in its 2AAAA opener, 39-0, which keeps a seventh-straight trip to the Class AAAA playoffs a realistic goal.

However, Los Alamos or any other 2AAAA team will likely have to win the district to get into the playoffs. Los Alamos, Taos, Española Valley and Capital have a combined 8-21 record, meaning that no district team with the possible exception of Bernalillo can make a particularly good argument why it deserves an at-large bid.

Los Alamos, which to date has had the toughest schedule of any district team, has posted losses to Class AAAA programs Silver, Belen and Farmington.

Hilltopper head coach Bob Scott said he’s expecting Bernalillo to come out in a power-I set and keep the ball on the ground, which is in some contrast to the last two meetings between the teams.

Bernalillo put the ball in the air at least once too often last season, that coming on a clumsy halfback option which was picked off with 2:00 remaining.

Los Alamos will look to keep the ball out of Bernalillo’s hands as long as possible Friday. Los Alamos’ offense, while not having put up a lot of points this season, has been moving down the field more effectively in recent weeks as first-year quarterback Kory Balog has taken more snaps. Balog took over Los Alamos’ quarterbacking duties in the second half of its win over Santa Fe.

One of Los Alamos’ challenges, however, will be to avoid the penalties which it has been plagued by this season.

The Hilltoppers had a promising first-half drive last week fizzle out due to penalties, which pushed the offense back from a first-and-10 at midfield to a first-and-35 at its own 25.