Toppers, Spartans to face off Friday

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Football: District race could be 3-team affair with LA, Bernalillo and Santa Fe

By Mike Cote

It’s do-or-die time in District 2-4A.
And the Los Alamos Hilltopper football team will take its first step toward doing or dying Friday night.
Los Alamos will take on the Bernalillo Spartans in the district opener for both schools. That contest is slated for 7 p.m. at Spartan Field.
Last week, Los Alamos wrapped up its nondistrict season with a 29-25 victory at Albuquerque Academy, a game which Los Alamos trailed 11-8 at halftime but rallied to win, the clincher coming on a 42-yard touchdown strike from Brice Van Etten to Xavier Dennison.
The Hilltoppers are seeking a second straight District 2-4A title, but so far this season, no 2-4A team has established itself as a clear frontrunner. The Hilltoppers probably have the upper hand among the three teams with the best shot to vie for the title.
Los Alamos will have back-to-back contests with the Spartans and the Santa Fe Demons. A pair of wins will go a long way to clinching a title.
“Our guys are feeling good,” said Hilltopper head coach Garett Williams, who led them to the 2011 district crown. “We’re coming off a win, but it’s a new season. We’re going into district. The guys had a great week of practice and we’re ready to go.”
Bernalillo is helmed by head coach Ken Noel, who guided the Spartans to their only district titles in program history in 2009 and 2010. Noel thinks his team has as good a chance as any to come out on top in 2012.
“I think this district is wide open,” Noel said. “You look at comparable scores, they’re all pretty much the same. We’ve played decent …. We’ve got to make our own breaks. We’ve got to make that stuff happen.”
The Spartans are winless on the season, but Noel said his team was just a few plays away from picking up wins against Taos, Academy and Gallup. The Spartans hung very close to Roswell in the second week of the season and had a chance to cut the Coyotes’ advantage to one score but the Spartans’ offense coughed up the ball deep in Roswell territory.
Against Academy, Bernalillo rolled up 450 yards offense but two long runs by the Chargers proved costly.
“Our goal is to put a complete game together against Los Alamos,” Noel said. “Offensively, we’ve got to come up and block people. We haven’t been doing that. One game, our offense plays good and our defense stinks, or our defense plays good and our offense stinks.”
The Spartans have a ground-based attack, led by tailback Luke Lucero. Lucero tips the scales at just 165 pounds but has proved durable so far this season, rushing 91 times for 422 yards (4.64 yards per carry).
Nick Reyes, a junior who is listed as a wide out but occasionally lines up under center, is averaging 8.52 yards per carry on 44 attempts.
The Hilltoppers (3-3) have half the number of total wins in 2-4A heading into this week’s play — the Española Valley Sundevils, long the doormats of Class 4A, have two of the other three — and are going into Friday’s game off their come-from-behind win over the Chargers.
Williams said the Spartans’ record is deceiving.
“Bernalillo has played some good teams,” he said. “They’re, from what we’ve seen on film, playing fast and they’re playing hard. They’ve got some good athletes. They’re going to play hard. When you start district, it’s a whole different story, especially when you’re going down there.”
And while the Hilltoppers have had the toughest schedule of any team in the district, consistency has been an issue. As well as they played against Academy, they struggled mightily a week earlier against Belen, giving up 46 points in the first half, 33 points in the second quarter before the Eagles pulled their starters after halftime.
Santa Fe, going into Friday’s game against Española Valley, has been outscored 137-26 in its previous three games but features a powerful running game that’s averaging nearly 200 yards per contest. Additionally, the Demons have on their roster Jordan Booth-Homer, one of the top athletes in the district, at the quarterback position, while running back Anthony Abeyta is averaging better than 6 yards per carry.
Neither Española Valley (2-4) nor Capital — which has scored 3 points while giving up 229 points in five games — are expected to make much noise in the district race. The Sundevils have shown some improvement under coach Miguel Medina, but probably not enough to make a dent against the district front-runners this year.