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Jagger Donaghe walks into the end zone for a touchdown during the second quarter Friday at Bulldog Bowl. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

It was everything a football fan could want from late October: a chill in the air, a Friday night under the lights, and a win over Goddard.

The Bulldogs took their second step toward locking up the District 4-AAAAA championship Friday at Bulldog Bowl with a 56-12 win over the Rockets, improving to 7-2 on the season, 2-0 in D4 play.

Artesia left no doubt as to the outcome from the opening drive on, scoring to culminate all but one of their nine possessions while giving up just a pair of Goddard touchdowns amidst three turnovers, a pair of three-and-outs, and a TOD.

“For the second week in a row, I was really pleased with our execution in all phases of the game,” Artesia head coach Rex Henderson said. “To come out and just really play them well defensively and offensively, I’m really proud of these guys and how hard they’ve worked.

“I think they’re playing at a really high level right now, and we just have to make sure we work to continue that. But I thought we got off to a real strong start and really just dominated the game from start to finish.”

The healthy crowd that embraced the football weather for the district rivalry bout was whipped into a frenzy before the teams ever took the field, as retired U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Dana Bowman parachuted into the Bowl with a massive American flag in tow.

Kyler Smoot (27) takes down Goddard’s Diego Miranda as Johan Corral (48) moves in to assist during the second half. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

They were back on their feet three-and-a-half minutes into the game when senior quarterback Taylor Null kicked off the scoring barrage with an eight-yard touchdown pass to Chaney Hardt to make it 7-0 ‘Dogs.

The Orange Crush defense continued to live up to their name Friday, snagging the Rocket running backs right and left before making them pay for their first passing attempt of the night, which was picked by Jorge Avitia and returned to the Goddard 38-yard line.

The offense quickly took advantage of the short field, with Robert Fernandez carrying the ball to the 31 before Null found Tyler Greenwood for the score: 14-0 Artesia with 4:49 to go in the first.

A quick three-and-out and a short punt saw the Big Orange O back in action in Rocket territory, and Null would turn junior RB Jagger Donaghe loose twice en route from the 42 to the 16 before sending a seven-yard toss to JR Bustamante, then letting Donaghe finish what he’d started from the nine to make it 21-0.

The Artesia defenders continued to wreak havoc in Goddard’s backfield, prompting another quick punt, and the start of the second quarter found the ‘Dogs driving again, this time from the Rocket 45.

Fernandez and Donaghe legged out the final 27 yards of the series, with Fernandez plunging over the goal line from the four to put Artesia up 28-0 with just over 10 minutes to go in the half.

AJ Estrada brings in a 37-yard touchdown pass from Taylor Null during the second quarter Friday. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

A broken play ended up working in the Rockets’ favor in their first possession of the quarter.
As quarterback Robert Aragon scrambled to escape a sack, he managed to get the ball out and into the hands of Hunter Beene, who rumbled 59 yards before being dragged down from behind a the Artesia two.

The ‘Dogs were able to twice fend Goddard off, but on third and goal, Tyler Hoover punched it in from the one for the Rockets’ first score. The PAT sailed wide under pressure from Denver Williams, leaving the score 28-6.

Artesia wasted little time responding, as Null followed a 32-yard pass to Fernandez that took the Bulldogs to the red zone with a 10-yard toss to his senior running back to make it 35-6, and followed a turnover on downs, Null needed just one play to secure his fourth and final TD of the night, a 37-yard shot over the top to a once-again-wide-open AJ Estrada at the 2:44 mark.

Turns out, that would be time enough for one more, as Stran Hammond pounced on a Goddard fumble at the Rocket 37, and Donaghe hit pay dirt on three consecutive carries as time ran out on the half.

With a 48-6 advantage and the mercy-rule clock in motion to start the third, the Crush thwarted Goddard’s opening drive with another forced fumble and recovery by Luis Esquivel at the Rocket 30.

That prompted the decision to let the second string close out the game, and they very nearly gave Artesia the opportunity to do so early in the third, as a 29-yard pass from Trent Taylor to Jacob Orona brought about first and goal.

Chaney Hardt sees daylight en route to the end zone during the first half. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

The squads traded pass interference calls prior to third and goal at the seven, but from there, a tipped ball in the end zone was snatched by Goddard’s Rion Lee.

Starting at their own five, the Rockets proceeded to embark on the game’s longest drive, and while it took them five minutes into the fourth quarter, they’d post their second and final TD on a two-yard run by Aragon. The conversion attempt failed, and the ‘Dogs would round out the final at the 3:44 mark on a 28-yard pass from Taylor to Brandon Saiz.

The Bulldogs finished with 395 yards of offense Friday, 266 by air, 129 by land. Null was 13 of 23 for 199 yards and four touchdowns through one half of play, while Taylor went 3-4 for 67 yards and a score. Greenwood, Estrada and Hardt led the receiving corps with 58, 53 and 52 yards respectively, each with a TD, and Donaghe and Fernandez were 7-72 and 8-51, the former with two touchdowns and the latter with one.

Diego Miranda was 24-93 rushing for the Rockets, Aragon four of seven for 66 yards passing, and Beene 2-68 receiving.

The Bulldog D held Goddard to 223 total yards, with the first string allowing just 97 in opening half.

Brandon Saiz makes an over-the-shoulder catch of a pass from junior quarterback Trent Taylor during the fourth quarter Friday at Bulldog Bowl. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

“I think the level we’re playing at defensively right now is really exciting,” said Henderson. “Our linebacker play in particular, they’re doing a good job, but overall as a defense, we’re just making it pretty tough on people lately.

“Offensively, our throwing and catching, particularly the deep ball, has come a long way, and our offensively line is doing a really good job of run blocking. We’ve been able to run the ball pretty much every week, and I think those are important things as we approach the end of the regular season.”

The ‘Dogs will now look to secure a fourth consecutive District 4-AAAAA title Friday as they host Lovington at Bulldog Bowl.

The Wildcats are 5-4 on the season, 1-1 in D4 after falling to Roswell High 48-12 Friday and defeating Goddard 35-28 Oct. 20.

“We’re off to a lot better start in district than we were a year ago, so I think to come out and keep making that progress is a testament to these guys’ work and focus,” Henderson said.

Retired U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Dana Bowman parachutes into Bulldog Bowl prior to the start of the game. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

Bowman waves to the crowd after landing. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)