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First, it seemed like the Los Alamos Hilltopper football team was finished. Then it seemed like the Hilltoppers had the game in the bag.
But when the final buzzer went off, it was the St. Pius X Sartans who had pulled off the improbable comeback to win.
Los Alamos, after being shut out for more than 45 minutes, scored a touchdown with 2:51 remaining and made a 2-point conversion – after a flag in the end zone gave it a second chance – to take its one and only lead of the ballgame Friday night against its bitter rival.
But St. Pius marched 67 yards down the field to set up a 19-yard field goal by Javier Jaramillo with 4.7 seconds left for the winning score, giving the Sartans a 10-8 victory at Sullivan Field.
It was a wacky final 4:10 of the game Friday, with Los Alamos moving the ball down the field for the first time in the entire game, culminating in a 50-yard completion down the right hash from Brice Van Etten to Tristen Hill to get the Hilltoppers to within one point of the Sartans.
Then on the ensuing 2-point try, St. Pius was flagged for a pass interference penalty, giving the Hilltoppers a second chance. Van Etten found Hill again on an out route to give the Hilltoppers an 8-7 lead.
But the drama was far from over.
With under three minutes left but holding all three of its timeouts – Los Alamos burned two of its timeouts in the third quarter and the last one right before its first 2-point try – St. Pius, led by quarterback Emilio Arellano, put together its best drive of the game.
Arellano had three big scrambles on the first three plays of the drive, the second of which went 13 yards down the left sideline after the Hilltoppers all shifted to the right to set the Sartans up just shy of midfield.
Then, with just over a minute remaining, Arellano hit Jaramillo for 31 yards down to the Hilltopper 8. Four plays later, Jaramillo booted the field goal to give the Sartans the win.
In the final two drives of the game, the Hilltoppers (1-2) and the Sartans (2-1) finally took advantage of opportunities that had been present virtually all night.
Both teams had porous deep coverage throughout the contest, but the offenses struggled to connect on deep routes. The only long pass completed in the game prior to the fourth quarter was when Arellano connected with Jaramillo on a skinny post route for a 44-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
Hill nearly had another big catch early in the third quarter deep down the right sideline, but the pass was about two feet out of bounds and Hill couldn’t get his foot down to complete the catch.
Arellano finished the game 11-for-26 passing for 161 yards. He threw three interceptions in the first half, two of which – one picked by Hill and one by Xavier Dennison – occurred deep in Los Alamos territory.
Los Alamos was playing without several key people Friday due to injury. Brian Geyer, the starting center, rolled his ankle during practice this week, while Seth Drop was also hobbled with a bad ankle and Simon Heath suffered concussion-like symptoms following the Hilltoppers’ loss last week to Farmington.
The Hilltoppers, of course, sport less than 30 players on their regular roster and having three starters out due to injury made a tough assignment – beating St. Pius for the first time in school history – considerably tougher.
Like Farmington did with success a week earlier, St. Pius devoted much of its defensive resources to slowing down the Hilltoppers’ running attack, particularly Dennison, who was held to 48 yards on 13 carries, more than half of that total coming on one run in the first half.
Van Etten completed 5 passes, all in the second half, for 97 yards and the TD strike to Hill, who also had a 26-yard grab in the second half. Van Etten was sacked twice and had to fall on two bad snaps from the Hilltoppers’ pistol formation.
For the game, Los Alamos finished with 214 yards total offense.
Los Alamos is now in serious jeopardy of losing out on any chance of an at-large bid should it need one to get into the playoffs following consecutive home losses to Class 4A schools. Los Alamos still must play the third-ranked team in 4A, the Belen Eagles, in two weeks in Belen.