Published: 4:37 pm, Fri. Sep. 11th, 2015Updated: 4:32 pm
In 1974, the winds of change were blowing in Artesia. Coach L.G. Henderson had given way to young assistant and former Bulldog Mike Phipps, and the community was waiting with bated breath to see where the new regime would lead them. At Bulldog Bowl, a band of tough and capable Artesia High School seniors were honing in on a singular goal: a state title. And no one was going to get in their way.
For the third time in as many years, the ‘Dogs found themselves in the midst of a new district, having made the switch from Class 4A to Class 3A due to enrollment numbers incomparable with those of the state’s largest cities. The ‘Dogs’ tough schedule, however, still included some of the top teams in New Mexico, a fact that didn’t faze the Bulldogs in the slightest. The particularly enthusiastic group had an equal-opportunity mindset, as did their new head coach. Said Phipps, “No matter what happens, we’ll be the happiest bunch you ever saw.”
The Artesia boys opened their ‘74 campaign by keeping the program’s record versus Roswell Goddard perfect with a 22-6 win, but their first true test came the following week with the Trojans of Las Cruces Mayfield.
“We’ll beat ‘em,” Trojan skipper Clem Mancini said of Artesia during the preseason. Phipps wisely responded, “No comment.” Still, Mancini’s boast – based on a three-year Bulldog drought against Mayfield – raised the ire of the community and prompted Mayor Ernest Thompson to officially declare “Big Orange Week” in Artesia. Las Cruces soon got wind of the proclamation, and Mancini’s boast became, “We’re going to come pick us an orange.”
“Every year, the Artesia fans parade their fat little Bulldog mascot around their stadium and proclaim ‘Mack is Back,’” wrote the Las Cruces Sun-News. “But opponents have been able to throw Mack a bone and the team for a loss in the Mayberry RFD village.”
The ‘Dogs’ locker room bulletin board may well have have been of insufficient size to hold all that material, and with Phipps proclaiming he would hug everyone in the stands in the event of a win, “starting from the bottom rows on up to the top,” the fired-up ‘Dogs rolled over Mayfield 26-6 on a Randy Letcher run and touchdown passes from Greg White to Larry Combs and Cole Boyce, who nabbed two.
“Mayberry Bulldogs Maul Mayfield” read the headline, and while the Trojans dismantled the visitors’ locker room at halftime, the ‘Dogs celebrated the night away.
The momentum from that victory carried Artesia past Eldorado (16-8), El Paso Irvin (33-14) and Roswell High (37-21), and the ‘Dogs would end an 18-game St. Pius win streak in their district opener in decisive fashion, 48-0. The Bulldogs buried Portales, Tucumcari and Lovington by respective scores of 61-0, 41-0 and 51-0 before snapping a four-year losing streak to county rival Carlsbad, 21-3, and just like that, the ‘Dogs were back in the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.
The Artesia boys received a system shock from a scrappy Tularosa team in the first round. Former Artesia coach Jerry Bailey had his Wildcats ready to play, and it took a pair of White touchdown passes to Combs and Kenneth Harcrow in the fourth quarter to turn a 23-12 deficit into a 24-23 win. Returned to full alertness, the ‘Dogs made short work of Aztec in the teams’ first meeting since 1960, 33-7, on their way to the title tilt versus Deming.
The Wildcats came highly touted, largely due to their vaunted quarterback, Tim Dooley, who was averaging 232 passing yards per game and had never been sacked in his career. Artesia linebacker Martin Green would end that streak, however, and the ‘Dogs romped over Deming 23-0 on their way to the program’s seventh state championship and fourth undefeated season at 13-0.
That mark would put the 1974 Bulldogs in the record book as the first team to log 13 wins in a single year, a feat that would not be duplicated until 1998.