The Taos Tigers football season is off to a 2-0 start after a hilly, 44-27 triumph over Los Alamos on the road Friday (Aug. 30).The game kept the tension high for …
The Taos Tigers football season is off to a 2-0 start after a hilly, 44-27 triumph over Los Alamos on the road Friday (Aug. 30).
The game kept the tension high for the fans, with the Taos lead widening ever so slightly with every quarter and the Hilltoppers in contention until the end.
The Los Alamos Hilltoppers kicked off to Taos, but got on the board first after blocking a fourth-down punt and running the ball back about 20 yards into the end zone. The Hilltoppers' only lead of the game lasted only a couple of minutes.
On their next possession, Los Alamos was deep in their own territory when freshman Daemon Ely snatched a Hilltopper pass, giving the Tigers possession on the Los Alamos 21-yard line. The Tigers didn't waste their opportunity. Senior Noah Armijo, in his first year as starting quarterback, demonstrated his ability to carry the ball many times during the game, including his first down run on the opening play of the Tigers' scoring drive and, two plays later, his rushing touchdown.
Junior Missael Hermosillo put the ball between the posts for a 7-6 Tiger lead.
The Tigers shut down the next Hilltopper drive, thanks in part to a great stop by Santiago Salazar on first down. The Tiger defense forced Los Alamos to turn the ball over to Taos on downs at the Taos 33-yard line.
On third-and-three Armijo waded through the Hilltoppers' defensive line for the first down plus four more yards; he was simply bigger, stronger and tougher.
The first quarter closed 7-6 Tigers and the second quarter opened with a fumble recovery by Taos that wasn't--at least not according to the referees. After a contentious discussion that didn't change the call on the field, there was a series of penalties that marched the Hilltoppers from first-and-15 to third-and-25 on their own 27. After a few illegal procedure calls, the Hilltoppers finally managed to punt from their own 15.
Armando Valerio received the punt, getting the Tigers to midfield. On third-and-seven, Armijo connected to Angel Polanco for the first down at the Hilltopper 36. Facing third-and-13 after an illegal procedure call, the Tigers maintained their composure. Armijo found Simon Torrez for the first down and then carried to the end zone on the next play, making it 14-6 with the extra point.
Los Alamos answered with a 65-plus-yard rushing touchdown from quarterback Tyler Weiss, but they failed to make the conversion, leaving a two-point gap, 14-12.
The next drive gave the Tigers a chance to prove that they can play football. And they did. After receiving the ball on their own 11-yard line, a false start put them on the 5.
Facing first-and-15, Valerio ran for the first down. Valerio, Armijo and Torrez, protected by the line, made steady progress up the field which culminated in a beautifully chosen and executed play connecting Armijo to Polanco in the end zone. With the extra point and only a couple minutes left in the half, it was 21-12, Taos.
Weiss ran 75-yards on the return, but a flag got the play called back. Weiss tried again on the next play, but Hermosillo of Taos wasn't letting that happen. Just a couple plays later it was Hermosillo stopping Weiss again. With 1:19 left in the half, Los Alamos was in scoring position.
The Tigers avoided a Hilltopper touchdown by recovering a fumble by Weiss, maintaining the 21-12 lead as they headed into the locker room.
Though they managed to make a good deal of noise, the Taos side of the stands were scantly filled compared to usual, leaving one to wonder what previous engagement kept the Tigers' fans away.
After a halftime performance from the Hilltoppers' color guard and marching band, the teams returned to the field.
Los Alamos received the ball on their own 25 and had a short drive. Their first play was stopped dead by Salazar, their second they were lucky to recover their own fumble. After failing to convert on third-and-33, they punted on fourth down.
The second half was mostly consistent with the first, except that they young Tigers team generally improved in cohesiveness and execution play by play. The main offensive strategy of Los Alamos was to get the ball to a fast guy, either by leaving it with Weiss and making a hole or by running a pattern that got one of their receivers behind their coverage. In the second half, Hermosillo discovered he could catch Weiss and thereby shut down many of the Hilltoppers' scoring opportunities.
The Tigers had a field goal from Hermosillo and three touchdowns--a pick six from Ely, and rushing touchdowns from from Valerio and Montano. The Hilltoppers had two touchdowns of their own, one on a nearly 65-yard pass
from Weiss to Jose Salazar and the second an 85-yard run from Weiss.
The Hilltoppers, recently pushed down to 4A from 5A, still seem every bit a 5A school, from their enormous color guard to their marching band to their unofficial male spirit squad in the student fan section with painted chests and horns that sound like moaning ducks - but are surprisingly easy to ignore after a few minutes.
Especially when the dust settled at Tigers 44, Hiltoppers 27.
While the Tigers' team is filled with young, developing players stepping up to fill the shoes of their state-champion predecessors, the focus of the Hilltoppers' offense is speed. They have several very quick players, and their offensive strategy boils down to catch-me-if-you-can. It's enough to get them on the scoreboard a few times a game, but it won't carry them to a championship. Tyler Weiss, their remarkably fast quarterback, was involved in all three offensive touchdowns, one a long pass and the other two breakaway runs by Weiss himself.
Friday (Sep. 6) the Tigers travel to play on the Aztec Tigers, also 2-0 this season, in a nonconference game at 7 p.m. Aztec defeated Miyamura 40-7 Aug. 23 in their season opener and shut out Newcomb 50-0 Aug. 30.
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