Espanola quarterback Makaio Frazier runs for yardage against Los Alamos. Frazier threw two touchdown passes. It wasn't enough as Los Alamos beat Espanola 57-12 Aug. 24 in Los Alamos (photo by John McHale).
By George Morse Sports and Outdoors
Sundevils Can’t Stop Hilltoppers
The once-eager Espanola Valley High School football team faced a tough bus ride back from Los Alamos after suffering a 57-12 loss to Los Alamos High School Aug. 24 in their opening game of the 2018 season at Los Alamos. The Sundevils faced a reality where they still have plenty of work to do if they hope to have a successful season.
With the return of Head Coach Miguel Medina to the sidelines and a strong-armed quarterback in transfer senior Makaio Frazier, Espanola was looking forward to its opening-game matchup against the Hilltoppers. Medina had been at the helm of the Sundevils in 2015, when Espanola won its first District 2-5A title in football and went to the state football playoffs for just the second time in school history. He returned to take over the reins again this season. Frazier, a well-seasoned journeyman quarterback who had not played football last season as he was being home-schooled, had shown a strong arm during summer workouts.
Los Alamos and Espanola had previously been rivals in District 2-5A and usually faced each other later in the season. Espanola had suffered two frustrating losses to the Hilltoppers the last two seasons. Both losses were by a single point with the 35-34 loss in 2016 coming on the last play of the game. Espanola last defeated Los Alamos in 2002 and was hoping to break a 15-year losing streak.
The Hilltoppers looked a little thin in numbers as they took the field, with less than 20 players in pads. Taking the opening kickoff and getting a good return to Espanola’s 37-yardline by Dylan Irish, the Hilltoppers marched from there to the game’s first touchdown. Los Alamos proved to be a step ahead of Espanola’s defense and quicker off the snap then the Sundevils. That would set the tone for the rest of the game. Los Alamos took a 7-0 lead at 9:02 of the first quarter.
Espanola's Kebin Marquez (left) and Gabe Quintana tackle Los Alamos' Dylan Irish (photo by John McHale).
Espanola had a promising drive on its first possession of the game following Los Alamos’ touchdown. Starting at their own 35-yardline, the Sundevils picked up a pair of first downs. After a five-yard penalty on the Hilltoppers gave the Sundevils a first-and-five at the Hilltoppers 33-yardline, it looked like Espanola might be able to respond to the challenge with a score of their own.
However, Los Alamos stuffed three straight running plays by the Sundevils. On fourth down, Frazier’s pass fell incomplete and Los Alamos would take over on downs at their own 32-yardline. The lack of a running game would plague the Sundevils throughout the game.
Los Alamos drove 68 yards for their next touchdown. Helped by two costly offsides penalties on the Espanola defense, the Hilltoppers ground out yardage on the ground. Los Alamos took a 13-0 lead at 1:30 of the first quarter.
For the rest of the first quarter and most of the second quarter penalties plagued both teams and the score remained 13-0. After a missed field goal by Los Alamos, Espanola started from its own 20-yard line. On second down, Frazier dropped back to pass and heaved a bomb downfield to a wide-open Kebin Marquez near midfield. Marquez gathered the ball in and outran the defense to the end zone for a 79-yard touchdown. That made the score 13-6 with 2:48 left in the first half. Espanola was back in the game.
Espanola's Kebin Marquez hauls in a long pass from quarterback Makaio Frazier for a 79-yard touchdown play that made the score 13-6 in favor of Los Alamos in the second quarter (photo by John McHale).
A stop by the Espanola defense following the touchdown could have really lifted the Sundevils’ spirits. Los Alamos answered with a 65-yard touchdown drive that was helped by a personal foul penalty on Espanola. Cade Yost got the touchdown with an 11-yard run on a counter play that would work all-game long for the Hilltoppers. Los Alamos led 21-6 with 46.5 seconds left in the first half.
Espanola's Bernie Jaramillo tries to drag down Los Alamos' Dylan Irish by his jersey (photo by John McHale).
A key turning point in the game came in the closing seconds of the first half. From deep in their own territory, Espanola chose to throw the ball rather than run out the clock. Frazier was hit as he threw and his wobbly pass was picked off by Walker Eaton. He returned it for a touchdown. Irish ran for the two-point conversion and Los Alamos now led 29-6 with 31.4 seconds left in the first half. Los Alamos had scored 16 points in just 15 seconds to take a commanding lead.
Espanola’s last gasp came on their opening drive of the second half. If the Sundevils could score after taking the second-half kickoff, perhaps they could get back in the game. On first down, a lateral that went out-of-bounds cost the Sundevils big yardage. Despite a 12-yard run by Frazier, Espanola was forced to punt.
When Los Alamos quarterback Eaton broke loose for a 60-yard run on second down and then scored on the next play from the two-yard line, the score was now 36-6 at 9:27 of the third quarter. The rout was on. Yost would score three more touchdowns. Espanola managed another score on a pass from Frazier to running back Joe Perez, but by then the game had been decided.
“We ran out of gas,” Coach Medina said. “We had three linemen out and we had to play some young guys. I knew we would have trouble running the ball. It doesn’t matter what play you call. If you can’t block it, it’s not going to work.”
Frazier was pressured throughout the game after the Hilltoppers realized that Espanola couldn’t run the ball and Los Alamos could pin their ears back and rush the quarterback.
“It exciting to be playing again,” Frazier said. “It didn’t go as planned. We just need to come back and get better.”
Espanola faces Hope Christian High School in its next game Friday (8/31) at Espanola. The Huskies are coming off a big 10-3 win over perennially-strong Portales High School Aug. 24 at Portales.
“We’ll have three key players back and that will help with our depth in the line,” Coach Medina said. “We had a lot of missed tackles and we need to be disciplined on defense. We know where we’re at. The players need to understand that they need to come to practice and put in some hard work. We’ve got some good talent.”