. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

An Artesia Bulldog watches as a Roswell Coyote finds itself short of running room in this drawing by Artesia High School junior Maegan Lemon. The ‘Dogs will host the Coyotes at 7 p.m. today at Bulldog Bowl in their District 4-AAAAA opening game.

An Artesia Bulldog watches as a Roswell Coyote finds itself short of running room in this drawing by Artesia High School junior Maegan Lemon. The ‘Dogs will host the Coyotes at 7 p.m. today at Bulldog Bowl in their District 4-AAAAA opening game.

It’s been a good many years since the Artesia Bulldogs and Roswell High Coyotes have headed into their annual bout sporting identical records. But when the two take the field tonight at Bulldog Bowl, it will not only be as two 6-1 teams but as No. 1 and 2 respectively in Class 5A.

The turnaround the Coyotes have experienced under fourth-year head coach Jeff Lynn has taken most in the state by surprise, perhaps none more than the Goddard Rockets, who suffered their first defeat in 15 years at the hands of Roswell in 2015. But it’s something Artesia head coach Rex Henderson saw coming.

“When they did the first coaches’ poll this year, I had Roswell in the top three to start the season,” Henderson said Thursday. “We’ve known they were going to be a good team because they’ve been doing well at the lower levels for quite a few years now. Coach Lynn and his staff have really improved that program.

“This is the first group of seniors that’s been through the whole program, and you can really see the improvements that have been made. They’re athletic, they have speed, they have size, but I don’t know that that’s different from Roswell High teams in the past. It’s just that those athletes are playing with more discipline and playing harder now.”

After proving they were done being District 4-AAAAA’s punching bag last season, Roswell has gone on to put the rest of the state on notice, as well, racking up wins over 5A opponents Belen, Farmington and Alamogordo over the past four weeks.

Artesia took particular notice of the Coyotes’ 40-26 win over the Tigers last week due to the proximity of perspective it offered. The Bulldogs had defeated Alamo 48-35 the week before.

“I think Roswell beating Alamo like they did got our guys’ attention a little bit and made them realize this is a game they’d better be ready for,” Henderson said. “Our kids had a lot of respect for Alamo, so for Roswell to beat them as bad or worse than we did kind of makes you think a little bit, and that was good for us.”

The ‘Dogs and Coyotes also shared victories over Hobbs, with Artesia topping the Eagles 56-28 and Roswell defeating them 42-37. Whereas the Bulldogs handled then-second-ranked Los Lunas 39-21 Sept. 30, however, the Coyotes struggled Sept. 16 in a 49-14 defeat.

That would be Roswell’s lone setback, however, as they’ve utilized a multi-threat offense helmed by quarterback Bear Kyser to outscore the six opponents they’ve topped 258-104.

“Their offensive scheme is really good,” Henderson said. “They’re kind of semi-spreading the field and forcing you to cover but also running the ball well, so it’s a tough offense to prepare for. It’s the old-school running idea that if they can get you out of position because you get so used to playing the run, they’re going to throw it over your head, so most of the passes they’ve thrown this year have gone for huge gains.”

The 5’10”, 176-pound Kyser has compiled more than 800 passing yards and 200 rushing on the season thus far. Roswell’s key backs – Gabriel Najar, Daniel Sosa and Michael Ponce – have collectively churned more than 1,200 yards of turf.

Defensively, the Coyotes bring solid pressure with the help of sack threats Cade Manzanares and Donald Truex.

“They do a good job of not giving up big plays and just trying to keep everything in front of them,” said Henderson. “They’re pretty sound. They can be aggressive when they want to be, and they tackle well.”

The Bulldogs, meanwhile, put their balanced attack on display Oct. 7 against Alamogordo, turning running backs Isaiah Weideman, Robert Fernandez and Ryan Gallegos loose for 336 yards while junior QB Taylor Null and the receiving corps tacked on 108 more. To date, the ‘Dogs stand at 1,884 pass yards and 1,012 ground.

“We just spent the open week going back to some of the things we’ve been working on all year,” Henderson said. “Just being sound in how we’re playing defense, tackling well and all of that, and offensively, working on getting better at what we’ve done, working on our consistency with throwing and catching, and making sure we have our pass protection down so we can be the team we want to be.”

The ‘Dogs know they’ll have their work cut out for them tonight against a squad competing with both the postseason and pride on their minds. But they know their enemy, and Henderson anticipates a quality effort from his athletes.

“They’re excited about the new part of the season,” said the coach. “I think we’re a little fresher, too. Some groups respond well to the open week and some not so much, but I think this group has really benefited. They seem refreshed, energized, and ready to go, and they’re excited to play this game.”