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(Photo Courtesy Hope Franklin)

(Courtesy Photo)

“I call out my plays, and they told me I wouldn’t be able to do that Friday because it’s going to be so loud,” Hagerman head coach Adrian Olivas laughed Thursday.

Olivas and his counterpart, Deming skipper Kevin Graham, both played football for Artesia High School. They know what noise is, and they know what rivalries are. But in the Valley, community pride is just as strong. In the Valley, it’s all about the Bobcats and the Demons.

“We’re six miles apart,” Graham said. “These kids grew up playing together all their lives. It’s just a rivalry, and that’s what pure football is all about.”

“I’m pretty used to all the sounds around me in Bulldog Bowl, but I wasn’t having to deal with it as a head coach,” said Olivas. “So I guess I’m going to have to adjust to that on the fly, but I can’t wait. I’m ready to be a part of this rivalry.”

Much like the Eddy County War between Artesia and Carlsbad, the Battle for the Valley isn’t one that technically “counts.” With Dexter in Class 3A and Hagerman in Class 2A, there are no district titles or playoff implications on the line. But the boys in blue and green will no doubt be competing as if there were. There’s plenty to be said for bragging rights.

Dexter will enter tonight’s contest in Hagerman with a record of 1-1, having split with two teams from District 3/5-AAA to start the year. The Demons came up short of Santa Rosa, 28-14, in their opener before blanking Texico 26-0 last week in Texico.

“We came out against Santa Rosa in that first game and had three turnovers,” said Graham. “We really, really preach taking care of the football, so that was kind of uncharacteristic. We also had some penalties… I took the blame for the whole thing. We just weren’t a disciplined football team that night.

“Not to take anything away from Santa Rosa – they had two kids that ran the ball hard all night. They’re a good, solid football team.”

Dexter evaluated their mistakes and made them a focal point of the following week’s practices, and the squad was more solid overall in all phases Sept. 1 against the Wolverines.

“We came out against Texico last week, and they had some of those mistakes,” Graham said. “We were able to capitalize on them, and we also had two running backs both go over 130 yards in that game.”

Earning that distinction were juniors Gustavo Macias, who went 15-136 on the contest, and Nick Cobos, 17-130. The two are powerful weapons in a Demon offense that subscribes heavily to the “three yards and a cloud of dust” philosophy.

“We like to run the football,” said Graham. “We really do. We’re not a spread team, we don’t like to get as many plays as we can in a hurry. If we can run the ball, mix in the pass a little bit, and control the clock, we like that.”

Graham also said he was pleased with the improved performances of his offensive line and defense against Texico, particularly with defenders moving effectively to the ball.

Hagerman, meanwhile, is 0-2 on the early season but showed marked gains between their opener and their second outing.

“We’re young,” said Olivas. “Really young. We had a freshman starting at defensive end, a freshman starting at offensive tackle, sophomores starting at wide out, in the backfield, and in the slot. We’re 0-2, but we’re growing, and in my opinion, I think we have the toughest schedule in 2A.

“We started out with Capitan, the defending 3A state champions, who brought back everybody but one guy. Now we’ve got Dexter, who played in the semis last year in 3A, and then we’ll get ready to play Ft. Sumner, who’s ranked No. 1 in 2A and has been to the state championship the last two years. It’s just kind of like in Artesia – it’s going to prepare us for what we need to get done, and I’m excited about it.”

Youth vs. experience showed in the Bobcats’ opening bout in Capitan, as the Tigers romped to a 48-0 win.

“We had a little bit of the first-game jitters, especially with going against Capitan,” said Olivas. “We had a new offense, new defense, new philosophy, and we had our struggles.

“But there were a bunch of bright spots, and another thing I’m proud about is that they kept playing till the end. And that’s what we’re trying to instill.”

Olivas and his staff saw their athletes improve by leaps and bounds last week in Loving, however. The ‘Cats led 32-18 in the fourth quarter, but a string of errors saw the Falcons rally for a 34-32 win.

“We made a couple mistakes, some turnovers, and we had a few injuries,” said Olivas. “Not taking anything away from Loving, but we didn’t do anything to help ourselves in that fourth quarter.

“Still, I was real proud of the guys who were on the field at the end of the game. They fought.”

They’ll need to be prepared to fight even harder tonight when the Demons come to town, and Olivas says from what he saw last week, his emerging athletes will rise to the occasion.

“Our quarterback is a junior, Jakob Bejarano, and he’s got an arm,” said the coach. “We just need to tune up some of his technique, but he’s just naturally a great athlete. We’ve got a good corps of receivers also – Osbaldo Najera, a senior, is just an outstanding athlete, and so is Jose Rodriguez, a sophomore and one of our other slots.

“We’re excited not just for this year but for the future with this team. These young guys are getting a lot of playing time, and they’ll take these experiences and grow from them.”

Whereas Dexter gears toward the run, Olivas has put his faith in the style of offense he knows well, and Graham says his Demons will have to be ready for an aerial onslaught.

“They’re going to throw it around all over the place,” said Graham. “They’ve got some receivers that know what they’re doing and a quarterback that will stand back there – he’s not afraid. They’re 0-2, but when you play this game, you’ve gotta throw the records out the window.

“(Olivas) has got that town excited. I saw them throughout the summer in seven-on-sevens and stuff, and just the energy he has brought is really fun to watch. He’s going to do a fine job there – I just hope it doesn’t happen this week. We’re looking forward to this one, and we hope it comes out with us on top.”

Olivas feels the same.

“I know (Graham) coached in Artesia, and watching some of his film, I see some of the same plays that I’ll be running,” laughed Olivas. “But it’s going to be a fun game for the kids, for myself and my coaching staff – we’ve been working hard trying to get these kids to buy into our system, and I believe they are.

“I know Dexter has had their down years, but they’re rising, and 3A’s stacked. There’s a bunch of good teams there, and Dexter’s one of them, so we’re excited for the challenge. This is going to be a fun one.”