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InsigniaWhen the Friday night lights give way to the Saturday afternoon sunshine, there’s a different feel in the air.

These are the games that count, and while only a few earn the right to compete in them, each week the number is slashed to fewer still.

Reaching the playoffs is an accomplishment – in Artesia, it’s also a tradition. But that doesn’t mean the Bulldogs are unaware of the stakes. Just as they have all season, the boys in orange will take the field Saturday against St. Pius in a Class 5A State Quarterfinal with one goal in mind: execute the fundamentals, play as a team, and focus on the opponent at hand.

Their disciplined approach has led the squad to a 10-1 record and a No. 2 seed to this point. And with just three more potential games on the table this season, the intensity promises to be high both on the field and in the stands Saturday at Bulldog Bowl.

“We’re definitely ready for another ballgame,” Artesia head coach Cooper Henderson said Thursday. “I think the open date is good, but it also makes you anxious to get back on the field and play, and we’re looking forward to Saturday getting here.”

The ‘Dogs spent their downtime continuing to recuperate from a few nagging injuries and, in the latter half of the two-week break, preparing for another 10-1 team: the St. Pius Sartans.

The Albuquerque school has had a successful 2015 campaign thus far. Their lone loss came Oct. 23 at the hands of No. 4 Moriarty, 21-14. Through their 56-7 Oct. 10 win over Rio Grande, Pius had bested its first seven opponents of the year by a combined 307 points to 52.

On Oct. 16, the Sartans squared off against Lovington and were just able to preserve their then-undefeated season by a touchdown and two, 28-20. The loss to the Pintos followed the next week. Pius closed out its regular-season slate with a 41-6 decision over Grants before topping No. 10 Los Lunas 35-19 in last week’s opening round of the playoffs.

A key part of the Sartans’ success has been junior quarterback Drew Ortiz. The 5’11”, 180-pound signal caller has been a consistent athletic threat in his first varsity season under center for longtime St. Pius coach San Juan Mendoza.

Also contributing heavily is the Pius defense, a quick, strong unit that has allowed its opponents an average of just under 11 points per game.

“St. Pius has one loss, just like we do, and they’re one of those teams that’s played well throughout the year,” Henderson said. “It looks to be a good matchup.”

The Bulldogs, meanwhile, will be looking to build upon their unbeaten run through the classification’s toughest district.

“We know that once you reach this point, to move forward each week depends on a win,” said Henderson. “The playoffs are a fun time of year. It’s what you’ve been playing for, and we’re really excited about hosting this game and getting started.”