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KIRTLAND – A trip off the hill didn’t reverse the fortunes of the Los Alamos Hilltopper football team Friday night.
The Hilltoppers once again struggled offensively, being unable to sustain drives for the third straight contest. Not coincidentally, the Hilltoppers lost their third consecutive game Friday night, falling to the Kirtland Central Broncos 27-9 in the Four Corners area.
The game was marred by missteps, particularly in the first half as Los Alamos turned the ball over four times. Kirtland Central wasn’t much better, coughing up the ball three times, but was able to score a pair of touchdowns in the first half, the second coming just 40 seconds before halftime.
Los Alamos managed just one offensive score for the third consecutive game, that coming at the 7:58 mark of the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Brice Van Etten connected with Tyler Thorn near the goal line for the score.
That touchdown pass, from the Kirtland Central 4-yard line, was one of the few times in the contest Van Etten wasn’t under heavy pressure when he dropped back.
Van Etten was sacked five times along with being intercepted four times. He completed just one pass in the first half, a 19-yard swing pass to Xavier Dennison.
Dennison, Los Alamos’ leading rusher, shifted over to wingback Friday night to cover for injured Alex Delamarter and Sam Ortiz got the starting nod at fullback.
Los Alamos, which had to play without three starters in the previous week’s loss against St. Pius X, was down two starters against Kirtland Central – Delamarter and Elliot Hersman, the reigning District 2-4A Defensive Player of the Year.
The loss by the Hilltoppers (1-3) was the third in a row to a Class 4A team. With a tough game this week at Belen, Los Alamos is looking at the likely prospect of dropping to 0-4 against Class 4A competition, which will likely preclude the Hilltoppers from any chance of getting an at-large bid into the state playoffs should they find themselves in the position of needing one come November.
Both teams struggled mightily coming out of the gate. Los Alamos started the game with three consecutive 3-and-outs on offense, then turned the ball over late in the first quarter on its fourth possession. Kirtland Central (2-1) fared little better, turning the ball over twice in the quarter, the first time right after a 23-yard rush by tailback Jacob Belin.
But the Broncos would get on track offensively in the second quarter, while Los Alamos never would. The penetration into the backfield by the Bronco defensive front four was a problem the Hilltoppers wouldn’t solve Friday.
Factoring for Kirtland Central’s three first half sacks – the Broncos’ massive defensive end Christian Mackey had 2-1/2 sacks on the night – the Hilltoppers finished the first half with zero net yards passing.
Mackey, who also starts at tight end for Kirtland Central, made a one-handed grab in the second quarter to score the Broncos’ first touchdown and made another tough catch at the 1-yard line early in the third quarter to set up another Broncos’ touchdown, that putting them up 21-0 at the time.
Even while they were struggling, the Hilltoppers weren’t doing themselves any favors. They were flagged eight times for 70 yards, including two unsportsmanlike conduct fouls and one facemask penalty.
Los Alamos didn’t get on the board until just five seconds remained in the third quarter. Los Alamos’ defense recorded a safety – its first of the year – dropping quarterback Rashaan Sorrelhorse in the end zone.