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JACONA – Although it features several returning starters, one of the big changes for the Los Alamos Hilltopper football team heading into the 2013 season is what Xavier Dennison could do switching from wingback to fullback.
That question was answered in a big way Friday night.
Dennison, now the feature back in Los Alamos pistol offense, rolled up a whopping 230 yards and a touchdown on the ground as the Hilltoppers thumped the Pojoaque Valley Elks 43-14 in their season opener.
Dennison had seven carries of 18 yards or better on the game, including a 48-yard scamper in the fourth quarter after Los Alamos was pinned deep in its own territory with the game’s outcome still somewhat in doubt.
The Hilltoppers scored three times in the fourth quarter to put the contest away.
Following the game, Dennison said he and the rest of the team left all his energy on the field.
“We need a lot more players,” he said. “At halftime, we were really starting to feel it. By the end of the fourth quarter, we were done.”
This may be a continuing scenario this season for Los Alamos, which, despite recruiting efforts, had just 27 players on its opening day roster. While many of those players have been with head coach Garett Williams for his full tenure and are seasoned veterans, almost all of them play both offense and defense.
It was a warm night Friday in Jacona, which added to Los Alamos’ physical expenditures and induced some cramping late in the contest.
However, the Hilltoppers were still able to collect a hefty total on offense. It picked up 448 yards, including 360 yards on the ground.
Along with Dennison’s huge night, quarterback Brice Van Etten had 66 yards on 11 carries and completed 8 of 12 passing attempts for 88 yards.
Van Etten said he had to pick his spots to throw against a big Pojoaque Valley offensive line, some of which top the 300-pound mark and were leaning on the Hilltoppers all night.
“The defensive ends were kind of keying on me,” said Van Etten, who is in his second season starting at the quarterback spot. “(Xavier) had all day out there, but then when they pinched in, I got to get outside.”
His favorite target in the first half was Alex Delamarter, a junior taking over Dennison’s old wingback spot. Van Etten found Delamarter open in the left flat several times in the first half, connecting with him 4 times for 38 yards.
Los Alamos led 22-0 at halftime and appeared to be well in control of the contest, but the Elks refused to go quietly.
They made some noise with their second possession of the second half. Pojoaque tailback Juan Rios, a quick runner who is not afraid to get the tough yards up the middle, got some big runs behind the big left side of his offensive line.
Pojoaque made it all the way down to the Hilltopper 28-yard line, its deepest penetration of the night, but the wheels fell off at that point. John Ainsworth had to jump on a bad snap, then was sacked by Jonathan Schueler following two straight Elk penalties – one negating a big catch-and-run by Rios.
When all was said and done, the Elks were facing a fourth-and-32 back in their own territory.
Los Alamos drove 98 yards on just four plays in its next possession, capped by an acrobatic catch from Seth Drop at the pylon, reaching all the way around a Pojoaque defensive back to make the touchdown grab from 13 yards out.
Williams saw a lot of good things out of his offense and thinks it can keep things rolling as the season progresses.
“We came out and executed like we needed to,” he said. “We ran the option really well. Anytime you establish the option with your line, all three parts of the option are going to be successful. Brice did a great job of executing that.”
Pojoaque would make a last ditch attempt to get back in the ballgame, scoring on two straight possessions to cut the lead to 36-14.
The game was something of a mixed bag for Los Alamos defensively. Pojoaque moved the ball well in the second half and also had some shots down the field with receivers getting behind the secondary.
Simon Heath, who was hit up for a long reception early in the contest, picked off an Ainsworth pass and took it back 64 yards for a pick-6 with 9:50 remaining in the contest, putting the Hilltoppers up 36-0 at the time.
Van Etten said the team still has plenty of things to iron out and will be tested this week when it hosts the Farmington Scorpions in its home opener.
“The pass protection has got to get a little better,” he said. “The defense has got to stop the run. In the late second half they started pounding it.”