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Bulldog linebacker Grady Frost dives to take down Deming running back Carlos Armendariz Friday in Deming. (Brienne Green - Daily Press)

Bulldog linebacker Grady Frost dives to take down Deming running back Carlos Armendariz Friday in Deming. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

The festive Homecoming atmosphere in Deming Friday was somewhat akin to a postseason game. Couple that with a lengthy bus ride, and the Bulldog football team had the opportunity to test themselves in a playoff-esque environment against an opponent with plenty of confidence.

The Wildcats entered Friday’s matchup with a record of 2-1 and consecutive wins over Carlsbad and Silver under their belts. It was clear both the team and their fans were expecting to give the boys in orange a run for their money.

The ‘Dogs, however, had other ideas.

While a few mishaps prevented the offense from shifting gears until the second quarter, the Orange Crush defense was in overdrive all night, holding the Wildcats scoreless and to just 180 total yards of offense on the night in the 37-0 win.

The Artesia D forced Deming quarterback Dante Urrea – who’d done significant damage on the ground in all three of the ‘Cats’ outings this season – to take to the air more often than not, holding the senior to 27 rushing yards. Of his 113-yard passing tally, 70 of those came in Deming’s final full drive of the game in a second half abbreviated by the mercy-rule clock.

“When you look at defense over the last couple of weeks, we’ve really met all of our goals on the goal board, and I don’t remember us doing that very often,” Artesia head coach Cooper Henderson said Saturday. “We’ve been able to shut down, for the most part, the opposing offense the last two weeks, and that means you’re doing things right in a lot of different areas.”

After overcoming an early three-and-out and a fumble, the Big Orange offense settled in to rattle off four straight touchdowns in the second and third quarters, with senior QB Justin Houghtaling and his arsenal of receivers pulling a few big plays out of their hats to help the ‘Dogs build a 28-0 halftime lead.

Artesia claimed the advantage early in the contest, covering 54 yards in eight plays and culminating with a five-yard touchdown toss from Houghtaling to Daniel Leon with 8:16 on the clock. The PAT kick failed, leaving the score at 6-0.

The Crush forced a quick three-and-out on the Wildcats’ inaugural possession, but the Bulldog offense followed suit following a sack on third-and-five. Deming running back Carlos Armendariz would propel the ‘Cats into Artesia territory with a 16-yard run on their first play from scrimmage, but the defense stiffened to force a turnover on downs.

The ‘Dogs were unable to take advantage once again after Houghtaling fumbled into the end zone on first-and-goal from the Deming six-yard line. However, the Crush would continue to rise to the occasion in the still-close ballgame, forcing another turnovers on downs in the red zone after a sack of Urrea for a loss of five by linebacker Grady Frost and a pair of well-covered incomplete passes.

Facing third-and-19 following a clipping penalty, it looked as though the offense may be thwarted again, but a huge 75-yard pass from Houghtaling to Daniel Leon made it first-and-goal at the 10, and after a six-yard pass to Darius Ramirez and three-yard run by junior Isaiah Weideman, the latter would punch it in from the one. Ethan Duff darted over the goal line on the end around for the conversion to make it 14-0.

The defense and offense would continue to work in tandem through the remainder of the first half.

The D forced another three-and-out chased by a single-play scoring drive that saw Houghtaling calmly collect an errant snap from the ground and fire the ball 64 yards to Duff to make it 21-0 after Daniel Hernandez’s PAT.

Safety Caleb Brewer ended the ‘Cats’ next drive with a pick, and the ‘Dogs went quickly back to work, moving from their own 34 to the Deming 24 with just seconds on the clock. Another Houghtaling-to-Duff connection with .06 showing set the halftime tally, 28-0.

The Wildcats’ luck did not improve as the third quarter began. Urrea – also the punter – watched the snap sail high over his head following a three-and-out and was forced to kick the ball through the back of the end zone for a safety to make it 30-0.

The Bulldogs followed with another big-play touchdown, this time a 46-yard pass from Houghtaling to Clay Donaghe that rounded out the final, 37-0, with 9:17 to go in the third.

Deming’s longest drive of the night, a 19-play, 73-yard march, saw the third quarter give way to the fourth, but although the ‘Cats would again achieve first-and-goal, they were once more held at bay for a turnover on downs.

Artesia’s second-team offense punted away their final possession, and the ever-ticking clock ran out on the ‘Cats.

Houghtaling finished his night 16 of 22 for 353 yards and four touchdowns, two of those to Duff, who led the receivers with four catches for 126 yards. Leon posted six receptions for 125 yards, and Weideman led the ground game with seven carries for 24 yards and a TD.

“We found some different ways at times on offense to score, but we got it done, and we’re excited about being able to go and put points on the board when we need them,” said Henderson. “Our kicking game continues to be one of our brighter spots, although last night we probably had a few areas we could’ve improved a little more than usual.”

The Bulldogs will now prepare to enter Eddy County War week, with their annual bout with Carlsbad set for 7 p.m. Friday at Ralph Bowyer Stadium.

The Cavemen are still seeking their first win after falling to El Paso Eastwood 47-21 Friday. Carlsbad lost to El Paso Americas in their opener Aug. 28 (32-13), along with Deming (41-34) and Mayfield (41-6).

“Our goal is always to get better every week, but I think when you have a couple of games that aren’t as close, sometimes it’s a little harder to focus on improvement,” said Henderson. “We know if we want to meet our goal down the line of being a state champion, we’re going to have to be better every week.

“We’re going to have some opponents here coming soon that will definitely push us a lot more than we’ve been pushed. But we had a good trip to Deming, and we know we’ll have a challenge ahead of us this week. We’re looking forward to that.”

  • Duff3

    Ethan Duff eludes a Wildcat defender for a two-point conversion during the second quarter Friday. (Brienne Green - Daily Press)

  • Leon1

    Daniel Leon wrestles away from a Deming corner. (Brienne Green - Daily Press)

  • OLine1

    The Big ‘Dog offensive line works to give quarterback Justin Houghtaling time during the first half Friday in Deming. (Brienne Green - Daily Press)