Football: LA has chances, but miscues prove costly

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By Mike Cote

FARMINGTON — It could’ve been worse, but it could’ve been better, too.
On its first road trip of the 2010 season and the first road trip in the career of head coach Garett Williams, the Los Alamos Hilltopper football team had a tall order, taking on the fifth-ranked team in Class AAAA, the Farmington Scorpions.
The Scorpions, who had a mammoth offensive and defensive line, controlled the point of attack for much of the game, and cruised in the second half to a 41-12 victory at Hutchison Stadium.
The final score was somewhat deceptive, however. While Farmington was the superior team Friday night, a few plays — none of which went Los Alamos’ way — could’ve made the game considerably more interesting.
One series in particular could’ve tightened up the final score quite a bit. Los Alamos caught perhaps its only real break of the game on a fourth down play late in the first half. Farmington was flagged pre-snap for unsportsmanlike conduct — the referee, further away from the line of scrimmage than anyone on the field other than the punt returner, threw the flag — giving Los Alamos a first down at midfield.
Unfortunately, even with the new life breathed into the offense and set up just 51 yards away from getting right back into what had been a Farmington-controlled contest up to that point, the Hilltoppers (1-2) could do nothing with their second chance. A holding call on first down pushed the Hilltoppers back, erasing an eight-yard pickup by running back Arnoldo Ortiz and eventually forcing the Hilltoppers to punt again anyway,
Ortiz, a 5-foot, 10-inch, 173-pound sophomore, turned in a solid performance Friday night in the absence of starter Kyle Stephens, one of five Hilltoppers who didn’t suit up due to injury.
The holding call in the second quarter wouldn’t be the last time a good Ortiz pick-up would be negated by a Los Alamos penalty, however.
On Los Alamos’ final possession of the game, perhaps its best drive of the entire season, Ortiz broke two tackles near the line of scrimmage and put a beautiful juke on safety Chad Sanders to spring free down the left hashmark for a 91-yard touchdown, but with Ortiz at about the Farmington 30 and no one within 15 yards of him, Los Alamos was called for a block in the back, the foul occurring 30 yards from Ortiz.
The Hilltoppers would eventually score on the drive anyway. Quarterback Kory Balog hit receiver Ian Snyder on a quick 2-yard touchdown pass with 24.6 seconds remaining for the team’s second touchdown of the game.
Ortiz finished with 71 yards on nine carriers (7.9-yard average), despite having most of two big runs wiped out by penalties.
Balog, for his part, led the team with 72 rushing yards and completed 5 of 15 passes for 44 yards, a touchdown and a pick.
Farmington (3-0) was led by quarterback Daniel Lacey, a junior, who connected on 10 of 17 pass attempts for 156 yards and three touchdowns. On top of that, Lacey ran for a game-high 102 yards on 13 carries and two more scores.
The Scorpions scored on their opening drive of the night and then took advantage of two big miscues later in the first quarter to pull ahead 21-0. Niko Mendez, who had two long punts a week earlier against Aztec, had his second attempt of the night blocked by Jonathan Archuleta — Archuleta dislocated his shoulder on the play — and Farmington would score three plays later.
On Los Alamos’ very next play from scrimmage, an errant pitch attempt to Ortiz rolled all the way down to the Los Alamos 4 yard line before being recovered by the Scorpions, who needed just one play to cash in.
Los Alamos turned the ball over three times on the night, had the punt blocked and was penalized 6 times for 60 yards.
While the overall offensive effort was solid, 240 total yards against a big, physical defense, the miscues, which Los Alamos has struggled with throughout its first three games of the season, are worrisome, particularly with one of the elite teams in the state, Belen, due to roll into Sullivan Field in 12 days.