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Artesia heads to Deming Friday to take on Wildcats

Over the past few seasons, the Deming Wildcats have been steadily working their way up the ranks of large-school football in New Mexico.

The ‘Cats were ranked in the top 10 in the Class 4A state playoffs from 2011-13, falling to Moriarty in the opening round the first year before experiencing déjà vu campaigns in 2012 and 2013, defeating Roswell in the first round before suffering lopsided losses to Belen in the quarterfinals.

Perhaps due to those outcomes, their consistent improvement under head coach Fernando Holguin Jr. had been somewhat under the radar, allowing the squad to sneak up on several opponents, including Artesia in 2013. That was the year the Bulldogs suffered their first-ever loss to the Wildcats, who came from behind to steal a 21-18 victory in Deming.

The ‘Dogs will be making that trek west again Friday, and by no means are they overlooking their opponent.

“Most people that have kept up with Deming know in the last few years they’ve really been a much more competitive team,” Artesia head coach Cooper Henderson said Thursday. “When we went over to Deming two years ago, they beat us, and that was a big win for them. I think they’re approaching this game very similarly as far as the expectations on their end.”

Artesia wasn’t overlooking the ‘Cats in 2014, either, when Deming came to Bulldog Bowl for a Homecoming bout. The ‘Dogs jumped on the boys in blue early, leading 33-8 at the half en route to an eventual 53-15 victory.

The Wildcats (2-1) return several members of that squad this year who will no doubt be itching to turn the tables. Five starters are back on both sides of the ball for Deming, notably including senior quarterback Dante Urrea.

The 6-foot, 180-pound Urrea is a force to be reckoned with both under center and in the defensive secondary. He accounted for four rushing touchdowns in the ‘Cats’ 32-14 win over Silver City Sept. 11 and set a school record in Deming’s 41-34 victory Sept. 4 over Carlsbad at home with six rushing TDs.

“They have really a pretty good ballclub, and the guy that centers it all is the quarterback,” Henderson said. “He’s an exceptional athlete. He has really good speed and is a good hitter on defense.”

Urrea posted 152 ground yards on 29 carries against Artesia in 2014 and both of the Wildcats’ touchdowns but was picked off four times on the night in a game that saw the Orange Crush force a total of five turnovers.

While the Wildcats were unable to make the playoffs in their first year in Class 6A in 2014, they’ve gotten off to another solid start this season, their lone loss coming Aug. 28 at the hands of Flowing Wells, Ariz., 34-20.

The Bulldogs currently stand at 3-0 on the year after dominant wins over Belen and Valencia and a 38-28 victory over 6A Hobbs in Week Two.

“We’re definitely pleased with where we are at this point in the season, but we know we’d better get ready for a much tougher fight this week than what we had last week. And it’ll be good for us,” Henderson said. “I think the other thing we’re looking forward to is being sure we continue, like we did in our opening game of the season, to travel and play well, just be a good football team whether we’re at home or away, and be consistent week in and week out.”

Artesia will be looking to continue establishing consistency on offense while maintaining the overall solid play they’ve seen defensively. The ‘Dogs will also be looking for another standout week from their special forces units, which have made a significant difference thus far in 2015.

“We’re still very excited about our special forces and the impact they’ve had on games,” said Henderson. “I think Deming has just brought their program along to where, year in and year out, they’re going to be a pretty competitive ballclub, and we’re just anxious to get another big game this week and looking forward to good things going over to Deming.”