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Two seasons ago, the Los Alamos Hilltopper football team had a rough start to the season, but a better-than-expected showing against a top-ranked Belen team helped turn the team’s fortunes around.
Now, the Hilltoppers are hoping that particular lightning bolt will strike twice.
The Hilltoppers (1-4) will host their homecoming game Friday night when they take on the Albuquerque Academy Chargers. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Heading into last week’s game at Belen, Los Alamos was reeling from three straight losses to Class 4A teams, only one of which was not a lopsided loss.
But the Hilltoppers were able to slow down what has been for most of the 2013 season a devastating Belen Eagles’ running game — it had averaged 275 yards per contest heading in — and forced the Eagles to put the ball in the air for much of the second half.
“That second half, the way they played, we had a lot of confidence,” Los Alamos head coach Garett Williams said. “We’re really excited about the things they did.”
While Belen still had a very good showing on the ground, it was also hampered by some big turnovers in Los Alamos territory when the Hilltopper defense stiffened.
Los Alamos still fell in the contest 28-14, but it wasn’t near the shellacking at least some people were expecting to take.
The scenario was much the same for Los Alamos in 2011, when it fell at Belen 35-8, a game the Hilltoppers weren’t expected to be in at all, particularly after big losses to Pojoaque Valley, Aztec and Farmington to start the year.
That game seemed to finally snap the 2011 Hilltoppers to life. They rode that momentum for the rest of the season, which culminated in a District 2-4A championship and a berth in the postseason.
Friday’s game against Academy will be the last nondistrict contest of the year for Los Alamos, which will start District 2-4A play Oct. 11 against Bernalillo.
Despite a good showing last week — Los Alamos actually won the second half 14-7, although the lone Belen score in the second half helped salt the victory away — there are still plenty of issues the Hilltoppers will need to address to make a run in the latter part of the season.
Los Alamos still must find offensive consistency after scoring just 37 points in those four consecutive losses. The offense has been hampered by turnovers, heavy pressure on quarterback Brice Van Etten and negative plays that have proven to be drive-killers.
However, even in the four-game losing streak, Los Alamos still has shown some penchant for moving the football and wide out Tristen Hill, who caught a touchdown pass against Belen, has shown deep-threat capability.
But Friday’s opponent, Academy, is no slouch, despite the fact most teams are wont to schedule relatively easy victories for their homecomings.
The Chargers (4-1) have won three straight contests, including a win over Bernalillo Sept. 7.
But like Los Alamos, the Chargers are thin on numbers — Academy has just 30 players listed on its regular varsity roster — and haven’t played the toughest of schedules there is to play.
The Chargers have shown a single-wing offense this season, an offense that is difficult to explain, and, if it’s done right, difficult for defenses to adjust to. The single wing employs three setbacks and the quarterback and is based largely on the elements of surprise and deception.
Defensively, Academy likes to send pressure from the linebacking corps and run a lot of stunts with its down linemen.
One of Los Alamos’ biggest issues of late has been keeping Van Etten safe. He was sacked four times against Kirtland Central two weeks ago and took some licks the week before against St. Pius X.
“We’re expecting a fight,” Williams said. “They’re a typical Academy team. They line up and come right at you.”