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An Artesia Bulldog keeps an eye on a freshly-tamed Hobbs Eagle in this drawing by Artesia High School senior art student Maegan Lemon. The ‘Dogs will host their 2017 home opener at 7 p.m. today against the Class 6A Eagles at Bulldog Bowl.

As opening ballgames go, the Bulldogs couldn’t have had much better last week in Carlsbad.

Kicking off 2017 with the Eddy County War, the Orange Crush defense pitched a shutout against the Class 6A Cavemen, while the offense – despite a somewhat slow start – found its rhythm by game’s end en route to a 34-0 final.

The atmosphere was befitting the ECW. Not even a pregame downpour that pushed kickoff back 40 minutes could dampen the spirits of the thousands who piled into Ralph Bowyer Stadium.

But as atmospheres go, nothing compares to Bulldog Bowl.

When the lights go on tonight at the world-famous stadium, the boys competing beneath them will be feeling the electricity generated by the venerable space and the football-hungry fans occupying it. And that will only add to the excitement of a home opener against a team itching to move past a season-opening loss last week.

Where true rivalries are concerned, the ‘Dogs and their fans generally recognize only two: Carlsbad, for sentimental reasons, and Goddard, for obvious reasons. But in Eagle Country, the annual bout against Artesia is one of the most anticipated of the season, a fact that will no doubt factor heavily into the Eagles’ mindset tonight.

Offensively, Hobbs has the tools to be competitive.

The Eagles return four members of its skill set from 2016, including quarterback Gavin Hardison, running backs Fabian Trevino and Tristan Kemp, and wide out Alec Finney. Two offensive linemen also return as starters for Hobbs, as well as defensive lineman Michael Honigmann.

Hardison went 30 of 58 for 318 yards and three touchdowns against the ‘Dogs last season in Hobbs, with two of those TD passes going to Finney, who was 6-51 receiving. Trevino and Kemp, meanwhile, were 7-68 and 11-39 rushing respectively, the latter with one TD. Artesia won that contest 56-28.

Last week in a 33-24 loss to Clovis on the road, however, the Eagles stayed airborne for the vast majority of the game.

“Hobbs likes to throw, and they’ve got their quarterback back from last year,” Artesia coach Rex Henderson said Thursday. “At least in their first game, they were throwing even more than usual, which is a lot. So we’ll see if they follow a similar game plan against us.

“But they only ran the ball six times against Clovis, so they obviously have a lot of confidence in their passing game and what they can get done that way.”

While the Eagles’ defensive unit is largely comprised of first-year starters, Henderson says Hobbs appears comfortable in a more familiar formation.

“They’ve gone back to what they were doing defensively a couple of years ago, so they’re more sound on defense than they probably were last year,” said the coach. “They look like they’re doing a good job of getting to the ball and playing pretty aggressive up front.”

The Bulldogs, meanwhile, are also continuing to evaluate and shift personnel. Artesia has been hard at work since last Friday on shoring up the basics, and their coaches will be looking for fundamentally sound football today.

“We’re looking to see continued improvement in consistency of execution in all three phases of the game,” said Henderson. “That’s the big thing still – making sure we’re consistent at what we’re doing and getting it done, play by play.

“We also want to see improvement in the little things, the fundamentals like blocking, tackling, catching – all the little parts of making sure you’re a technically good football player early in the season. If we see progress in those areas, that’s what’s going to ensure we’re getting better each day and each week.

“We’re going to be facing a team that has good athletes on both sides of the ball tonight, so it’s going to be a good football game.”