Española Valley’s Chris Salazar (44) and Luis Cuevas celebrate quarterback Arlen Garcia’s touchdown’ The Sundevvils lost to Los Alamos 21-6 in their opening game of the season Aug. 23 at Española (photo by John McHale).
By George Morse
Española Valley Sundevils Battles To The End
The effort was there, but the result was the same as last year in the season-opening game for Española Valley High School football team. The Sundevils went toe-to-toe with the visiting Los Alamos High School Hilltoppers before losing 21-6 in a hard-fought football game Aug. 23 at Espanola. Last season, the Hilltoppers had hammered the Sundevils 57-12 in the season’s opening game. This year, the game was much more competitive.
“The effort I got from all the kids was great,” Española Coach Delfin Quintana said. “There were a lot of positives.”
It was a less than stellar start to the game for the Sundevils. Los Alamos took the opening kickoff and marched down the field. A 30-yard scramble by Los Alamos quarterback Tyler Weiss set the Hilltoppers up at Española’s 13-yard line. From there, Los Alamos drove for the game’s first touchdown on a one-yard run by Matt Archuleta. A successful extra-point kick made the score 7-0 in favor of Los Alamos.
The Sundevils started from their 35-yard line after the ensuing kickoff. A problem that would plague Espanola throughout the game happened on their first play from scrimmage. Quarterback Arlen Garcia ran for a good gain, only to have the play called back because of a holding penalty. Throughout the first half, the Sundevils were able to run the ball effectively, with running back Chris Salazar and Garcia picking up good yardage outside the tackles. Gabe Quintana pounded out yardage up the middle, particularly on direct snaps to him at fullback.
Penalties and turnovers plagued the Sundevils throughout the first half and Espanola was unable to sustain a scoring drive. The Sundevils lost three fumbles and Garcia threw one interception in the first half.
Espanola ran out of a single-wing offense that Coach Quintana had installed three weeks ago after taking over as coach following the resignation of former coach Miguel Medina. Primarily a running offense that relies a lot on deception, the Sundevils were able to move the ball on the ground. Espanola had limited success through the air, completing just one pass.
“It’s the offense I know best,” Quintana said. “We have a lot of guys who can run the ball. For some reason, not that many who can catch it. We’ve only put in about a 10th of the offense. We’re going to be putting in a lot more.”
The Espanola defense did a good job of bottling up the Hilltoppers offense after Los Alamos’ first touchdown. The Sundevils stopped one drive at their own 20-yard line by recovering a fumble when Weiss mishandled the snap from center.
A fumble by the Sundevils late in the second quarter was recovered by the Hilltoppers at Espanola’s 22-yard line with 1:07 left in the first half. On second down, Los Alamos running back Devan Mayfield found some running room and weaved his way to the end zone for a touchdown. The Hilltoppers led 14-0 with 51.8 seconds left in the first half.
Espanola dodged a bullet on its next possession. Los Alamos’ Jose Salazar scooped up an Espanola fumble and raced 62 yards for an apparent touchdown. Fortunately, Los Alamos was whistled for a penalty during Salazar’s return and the touchdown was called back. That was the final play of the first half. Los Alamos led 14-0 at halftime.
In the second half, penalties and poor field position plagued the Sundevils and for all of the third quarter Espanola’s offense was bottled up in their end of the field. Los Alamos could move the ball, but the Espanola defense would stiffen in the red zone and force the Hilltoppers to give up the ball on downs. The third quarter was scoreless.
Espanola finally caught a break in the fourth quarter when after a good run by Garcia, the Hilltoppers committed an obvious personal foul with a late hit out-of-bounds. The 15-yard penalty moved the ball deep into Hilltoppers’ territory. Garcia finished the drive off with a twisting 11-yard touchdown run with 7:44 left in the game.
It looked like Espanola had successfully run for the two-point conversion, but once again a holding penalty negated the play and moved the ball back to the 13-yard line. Espanola was unsuccessful on its next attempt and the score remained 14-6 in favor of Los Alamos.
With momentum shifting Espanola’s way, Los Alamos came up big on its ensuing possession. The Hilltoppers drove down to Espanola’s 37-yard line. From there, Weiss dropped back to pass and spotted Salazar running behind the Sundevils’ defense. He fired a pass that Salazar caught and he ran into the end zone for a big touchdown. The extra point gave Los Alamos a 21-6 lead with 5:16 left in the game.
Penalties continued to plague Espanola on their final possession and the Sundevils were forced to turn the ball over on downs. Los Alamos was able to run out the clock and hung on for the victory.
“The kids fought and I’m proud of them,” Quintana said. “We need to clean up our mistakes. You can’t turn the ball over. We get some guys back next week. We’re going to be okay. There’s still a lot to come.”
Next up for the Sundevils is a non-conference road game against the Hope Christian Huskies. The Sundevils take on the Huskies under the lights this Saturday, August 31 at 6:00pm in Albuquerque.