Phillip Van Dalen (44), Noah Lopez (1) and Paul Elumba (4) lead Highland out of the locker room before the Hornets’ 24-6 win against Valencia. (All photos courtesy of David Montes).
By Ed Nuñez
Enchantment Sports staff writer
For the first time in more than a decade, the Highland Hornets football team is 2-0.
Better yet, this week, the Hive cracked the top 10 in class 5A rankings, coming in at number 10.
On Thursday night, Highland will square off against another 2-0 team, the Cibola Cougars, who are ranked No. 9 in this week’s 6A poll.
The two teams meet at Milne Stadium at 7 p.m.
“They (Highland) are playing hard, their offensive line is coming off of the ball hard, it’s something I noticed right away” said Cibola head coach Rod Williams, in his seventh season at Cibola.
“Their quarterback is athletic, they look good and what they are doing on offense, fits their personnel.”
The QB Williams is referring to, is Andres Gallegos Ortega, a 5-foot-8, 150-pound junior.
“Coach (Phil) Lovato is doing a great job, fighting a battle to keep his program alive; you have to tip your hat to that.” said Williams.
For his part, the plan to have Highland competitive again is working just the way Highland head coach Lovato envisioned.
“So many things have come together, we (during the renovation of the gym) had a make-shift weight room and we didn’t have a locker room for two years,” Lovato said. “This senior class bought into the system and the influx of 15 new freshmen to the program, also helped.
“It has been a true community effort; our players do service projects in the community which brings us together. The new uniforms helped to instill pride.” Lovato added.
“This was my vision and my staff’s vision. We have a ways to go, but we are excited.”
Two of the Hornets standouts are the Lopez brothers; senior running back/safety Noah Lopez (5-6, 130) and sophomore running back/defensive back Nathan Lopez (5-5, 125).
“I feel like they can hang with anyone, they lead by example and are good leaders,” Lovato said.
He said senior running back and defensive tackle Phillip Van Dalen, is “strong and quick like a hammer hitting a nail. He will get the tough yards.”
Lovato said senior defensive end, Paul Elumba (6-2, 160), who is from Africa, “had been coming out for years and for whatever reason, it just hadn’t worked out. This season it has worked out and he is like a sponge; still learning.”
Lovato, a Highland alum who graduated in 1994 and played football under former Highland head coach Mark Henry, also said, “Cibola is a big-time team, always well coached. They will come after us. Can we go 12 rounds?
“This is a huge test to see how far we have come. Win, lose or draw, it will make us better,” said Lovato. “Highland hasn’t won for some time, but when you have a belief in winning, that change’s things. Highland is not losers, we are winners.”
Ed Nuñez is a play-by-play announcer for ProView Networks and a staff writer with Enchantment Sports. If you have information, tips or questions for Ed, please send to EnchantmentSportsNM@gmail.com.