Atomic City Update: LAHS football continues to be stuck in cycle of mediocrity

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By Phil Scherer

Legendary National Hockey League coach Scotty Bowman once said, “I found out that if you are going to win games, you had better be ready to adapt.” I read that quote while scrolling through my Facebook news feed this week, and it reminded me of the Los Alamos High School football team. But it was for all the wrong reasons. 

“Adaptable” and “willing to change” have never been ways to describe the team. The coaches have a system they believe in and, right or wrong, they stick with it. Last week was an example of when the system didn’t work, and it continues a trend in the wrong direction. 

In the 21-14 loss last week on the road against Capital High School, LAHS’ stubborn commitment to the run game cost the team in a big way. Three times in the fourth quarter, the Hilltoppers had the ball with a chance to tie the game or take the lead. All three of the drives ended deep in Capital territory. 

The play calling on the final drive was the most puzzling. With less than a minute to play and no timeouts remaining from the Capital 6-yard line, the Hilltoppers ran the ball up the middle and gained nothing. By the time the offense was back to the line to spike the ball to stop the clock, there were only 13 seconds left on the clock. 

Two desperate incomplete passes later from a run-first quarterback and the game was over. Instead of having four shots to get the ball in the end zone, the Hilltoppers ended up with two, all because of an ill-timed run play that would have made sense in the first or second quarter, but certainly not in that situation. 

The end of the game was frustrating to watch, more as an example of a larger issue than as an isolated incident. It is the same thing that has been happening for years, over and over again. The coaching staff says that a run-heavy, smash-mouth offense is the best way to go. They believe that it wears down opponents and creates second-half mismatches that lead to Hilltopper success. 

But that perception seems to be far from reality. From everything I have seen from the offensive system, it works well against the weakest teams in the state, but limits the team’s ability to move the ball against good teams, and makes it almost impossible for LAHS to come back when facing anything more than a 7-point deficit. 

Because of the Hilltoppers’ small roster size, the starters are often the same on offense and defense. It seems that LAHS’ run-heavy offense does more to wear down the linemen and skill players than it does to wear down the opposing teams. 

And it seems to take a toll as the season moves along. Not long ago, the Hilltoppers were 4-1, and everyone was excited about the positive direction the team was headed in. Now, with the team staring at the possibility of a 5-5 record at the end of the season, the wins don’t look nearly as exciting. Four of the team’s five wins came against some of the weakest teams in the entire state (Española Valley, Pojoaque Valley, Gallup and Santa Fe High). The other win came against Bloomfield. While that looked good at the time, Bloomfield is only 5-4 this season. It’s not the signature win it appeared to be. 

Time after time, the Hilltoppers have fallen against high-powered spread offenses built around pre-snap deception and a passing game that has multiple targets. Almost every top team in the state is built that way, and yet LAHS’ offense could not be more different. 

There is no adaptability. There is no real, lasting change. I truly want the best for all of these kids. I want them to have as much success as possible. 

With a large senior class made up of players who have been in the system for a long time, this year was supposed to be different. Instead, it has just been more of the same.