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BELEN – While it might be tough to find a lot of good news in a 27-point loss, there were at least some bright spots for the Los Alamos Hilltopper football team Friday night.
Facing one of the top programs in Class 4A in its Homecoming contest, the Hilltoppers were able to move the ball fairly well for a good portion of the night.
Unfortunately, some decent drives for the Hilltoppers didn’t result in any points until the very end when the game was out of reach.
Meanwhile, the heavily-favored Belen Eagles took advantage of some big plays, many of them provided by quarterback Nicholas Kurtz, as they picked up a 35-8 victory at home Friday.
The Eagles, the No. 6-ranked team in 4A, gained 321 yards on the ground, including Kurtz’s 136 yards on just 12 carries. Kurtz had eight rushes of 10 yards or more in the contest as Los Alamos’ defense struggled to contain him.
But Los Alamos, coming off its first win of the season a week earlier over Bloomfield, had one of its better offensive nights of the season.
The offense picked up 239 total yards, including 163 yards in the air.
To avoid a shutout, the Hilltoppers drove 76 yards in eight plays with under 4:30 to play. Hilltopper quarterback Danny Finn found receiver Seth Drop for 44 yards down the left sideline to set the ball up at the Eagles’ 15. Jared Mang, a freshman wingback who had a huge night for the Hilltoppers, punched the ball into the end zone four plays later.
Following the game, Mang said the team needed to come away with a score before the final whistle blew.
“I’d say it’s really important,” Mang said. “It shows at the end of the game when we’re down, we keep fighting, to drive down the field and get six.”
Friday night, Finn, also a freshman, connected with Mang for eight completions totaling 93 yards. Mang also completed a halfback pass for 30 yards to Skylar Veenis in the first half.
Finn had the most productive night of his young career, completing 10 of 19 passes for 133 yards. He found Cory Geyer in the end zone for a 2-point conversion following Mang’s touchdown.
The Eagles (4-0) went into the contest as heavy favorites, but Los Alamos forced an early fumble, setting itself up at its own 45. Los Alamos couldn’t do anything with the possession, however, and ended up kicking it away.
On their next possession, the Eagles went on their first of four long touchdown drives, marching 78 yards in eight plays for their first touchdown. On the drive, Kurtz had a big 18-yard pickup late in the drive to move the ball down to the Los Alamos 27.
Despite the long drives, Los Alamos actually finished with a slight edge in time of possession, holding the ball for 25:22, another good sign for the team, which is now just two weeks away from the start of the District 2-4A season.
Going into last weekend, only Los Alamos (1-4) and Santa Fe (1-3) among the 2-4A’s five teams had secured victories, both of them coming the previous week.
Prior to the 2-4A opener, Los Alamos still has a very tough contest remaining, that being Friday’s Homecoming game against Albuquerque Academy, but the district race appears completely wide open.
There are still plenty of issues that need to be resolved between now and then, but the Hilltoppers have been able to play two solid games back-to-back which could go a long way to boosting their confidence.
“We had some drives we didn’t finish,” Los Alamos head coach Garett Williams said. “The problem right now is not being able to finish when we need to...We’ve got to execute when it comes down to those types of situations.”
Los Alamos fumbled the ball away on a promising drive to start the game, then muffed a punt after holding Belen to a three-and-out, leading to the Eagles’ first score.
Arnoldo Ortiz rushed for 52 yards on 17 carries Friday, while Drop had two catches for 51 yards.
“We moved the ball well all game,” Mang said. “We’ve just got to punch it in at the red zone and not give up those opportunities.”
For the Eagles, Kurtz was 6 of 14 throwing for 60 yards. Tailback Daniel David Chavez had 81 yards on 11 carries and three touchdowns, including a beautiful 26-yard touchdown run, jump-cutting his way into the end zone after he appeared to be boxed in at the 10-yard line.