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WRANGLE THE ROCKETS — An Artesia Bulldog lassos a passing Goddard Rocket in this drawing by Artesia High School senior art student Maegan Lemon. The ‘Dogs how Goddard at 7 p.m. today in a District 4-AAAAA bout at Bulldog Bowl.

So… that happened.

It’s become the prevailing attitude toward last year’s infamous meeting between Artesia and Goddard at Wool Bowl. Everyone was mad that night. The fans stayed mad for a while; the players shook it off and moved on to a runner-up finish in the Class 5A state playoffs.

A review was made, a nationwide rule was changed, and that was that. And while it’ll never be forgotten in the lore of a series that dates back more than 50 years, the teams that will take the field tonight at Bulldog Bowl are not at all the same. Neither is the situation.

Tonight, it’s back to Rockets vs. Bulldogs with nothing but district business on the line.

“Goddard is a lot like they usually are – a pretty typical Goddard team that’s just maybe a little younger in some spots than they’ve been,” Artesia head coach Rex Henderson said today.

The Rockets lost the vast majority of their 2016 squad to graduation, with only two players returning to the starting lineup: senior Diego Miranda at running back and safety, and defensive lineman Stephen Archuleta.

Goddard stands at 4-4 on the season, 0-1 in district play after suffering a somewhat shocking loss last week to Lovington on the road, 35-28.

The ‘Dogs and Rockets have Carlsbad, Alamogordo and Deming in common, with Artesia having topped the three by healthy margins, while Goddard fell to Carlsbad (19-18) before defeating Alamo (35-10) and Deming (24-14).

Their other losses have come at the hands of Piedra Vista (30-7) and Clovis (41-0).
Much like Roswell High, Goddard favors the run and will be looking to make it work for them tonight out of the wing T against a Bulldog defense that stifled the Coyotes’ rushing game last week.

“They’re going to run the ball hard,” said Henderson. “They’ve got their fastest senior set up to be the back, and he’s a good football player. He runs well and for sure has the speed to break it if he gets a crease or gets to the sideline.

“I think our defense is playing with a lot of confidence right now. They’ve done some things really well throughout the season, particularly stopping the run, but certainly coming out of the Roswell game they feel pretty good about what they did and just have to keep building on that.”

Miranda had no rushing yards last year against the Bulldogs but was 2-79 receiving, catching one touchdown pass from 69 yards out and delivering a 90-yard kickoff return for a score.

The Bulldog offense, meanwhile, also had a stellar outing Friday against Roswell, scoring to cap all but one of their drives and moving the ball efficiently throughout.

“Defensively, Goddard is going to have some good guys up front, line up and try to be physical, and try to take away the big play at the same time,” said Henderson. “I think they’re going to match up against some things we do well, and that’s what they kind of design that defense to do. So we’ve just got to be patient and plug away, and if we can be consistent in our execution, I think we’ll be alright.”

Overall, the Rockets present many of the same challenges the Coyotes did last week, and that’s been the ‘Dogs focus over the course of their week of practice. They’ll be hoping for a similar outcome, as well.

“It’s similar to Roswell High in a lot of ways in that you’ve got to make sure you’re sound in your alignment and technique on defense, because they’re going to try to get you misaligned,” Henderson said. “Really a part of that run mentality is that if they can get you misaligned, they can get better matchups blocking, so we have to make sure we align properly and quickly.

“We’ve been real pleased with our special forces lately, as well. We feel like they’ve really responded to some challenges and done some things better throughout the year. We’ve seen a lot of improvement in that area, and I think in a game like this as you work through district, you sure want to see that phase continue to shine and be a difference-maker in a game for you.”