Football: Hilltoppers open up 2AAAA play Friday night

-A A +A
By Mike Cote

It’s a new football season. For all intents and purposes, anyway.
Despite a rough nondistrict season for the Los Alamos Hilltoppers, in which it lost five straight contests, things can be righted in a hurry. Los Alamos will have an opportunity to put a lot of struggles behind it quickly Friday night at Bernalillo.
The Hilltoppers open the District 2AAAA season Friday at Bernalillo when they take on the Spartans.
The two teams have had pretty similar nondistrict seasons, each winning just once, but the winner of Friday night’s game will be right in the mix for a district title in 2010.
The other could be out of the running as soon as the clock hits zeroes.
“They’re kind of in the same boat as us,” Los Alamos head coach Garett Williams said. “The good thing about the start of district play, it’s a new beginning for the both of us. It’s a good opportunity for both of us.”
And the district race appears to be wide open heading into the teams’ openers.
Currently, none of the 2AAAA teams have a record above .500, although with its 44-42 victory over Taos last weekend, Santa Fe tied its season record up at 3-3.
Santa Fe, the new kid on the district block, might be handicapped as the slight favorite heading into 2AAAA play.
In its opener, the Demons gave the Piedra Vista Panthers, the seventh-ranked team in the classification, all it could handle, losing 28-27.
That is about as well as any team in the district has done against a ranked opponent so far this season.
Los Alamos has taken its lumps against one of the toughest schedules of the 2010 season so far, facing four ranked opponents in five weeks – including last week’s loss against Class AAA Albuquerque Academy, 49-7.
While Santa Fe might have the best shot at a district title heading in – the combined record of the district’s other four teams is 2-16 – it has had the most favorable nondistrict schedule of the three teams that would seem to have a legitimate crack at the crown.
Bernalillo (1-5), the reigning district champion, took on four ranked opponents in five outings – Moriarty, Farmington, Valencia and Academy – going 0-4 in those contests. It garnered its first victory of the season in a 48-7 throttling of Gallup, but was hammered last week against Piedra Vista, 48-21.
In 2009, the Spartans topped the Hilltoppers 14-0 in a game that was billed the biggest game Bernalillo had ever hosted. Bernalillo went on to win the first district football title in school history. The Hilltoppers, with few credentials other than a 3-1 record in an otherwise unimpressive 2AAAA last season, was frozen out of an at-large bid despite its district runner-up status.
Los Alamos, and quite possibly the rest of the district as well, could be in the same position in 2010. In Los Alamos’ case, four losses against AAAA opponents will make any argument that the team deserves an at-large bid a mighty tough sell.
Williams said he’s expecting the Spartans to come out in an I-formation on offense and try to keep the ball on the ground for the most part. However, Bernalillo has also shown some trips sets so the Hilltopper defensive backs can’t get too comfortable keying on the Spartans’ running game.
Defensively, Bernalillo has generally employed an odd front, which Williams said his offensive line has been adjusting to and should be ready for.
As if there wasn’t enough pressure playing the reigning district champ on the road in a game both teams need to win, Friday’s game could well prove to be the make-or-break contest for the Hilltoppers’ season.
A win over the Spartans would likely leave the Hilltoppers just a win over Santa Fe from a district title, while a loss would immediately put them behind the 8-ball in the three-team race – there has been little about Capital’s or Española Valley’s seasons-to-date that would indicate either of them will factor into the district race.
Los Alamos, for its part, has shown improvement on offense throughout the nondistrict season, putting together solid scoring drives against Belen and Farmington, not to mention its 40-0 win over Pojoaque in its season opener.
“We’re hoping we can keep building on this thing,” Williams said. “We’ve got some good things going. The attitude has been positive, the support has been great despite some of these things.”
Defensively, however, the Hilltoppers will need to improve vastly on their 37.2 points per game allowed. Even the struggling Española Valley Sundevils have shown the ability to put up points this season, although the Sundevils have been able to stop almost no one on defense, as evidenced by a 58-50 shootout loss to Santa Fe Indian School two weeks ago, a team that has been wildly uneven on offense this season.
The Spartans have actually fared slightly worse on defense this season than the Hilltoppers, giving up 37.7 points per contest.
One of the big bright spots for Los Alamos heading into Friday’s game is that most of its players have healed up from early-season injury. The team, Williams said, should be very nearly at full strength to open the district schedule.