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

Members of the Bulldog football team salute the crowd with the Artesia High School Alma Mater following Friday’s game. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

For three consecutive games, the Bulldog football team had appeared to be teetering on the brink of its capabilities.

Two frustrating, fourth-quarter losses to Carlsbad and Hobbs were firmly in the “ones that got away” column, and while the ‘Dogs shook it off and logged their first win last week over Belen, they knew opportunities had still been missed, points left unscored.

Their coaches and fans had been waiting patiently for the team to piece it all together. And that moment finally came Friday at Bulldog Bowl – fittingly, before a sizable Homecoming crowd of Artesia High’s past, present and future.

The boys in orange put the hammer down early and did not ease up versus the Class 5A ninth-ranked Wildcats of Deming, logging a 56-12 victory in a game shortened by the mercy-rule clock.

With that, Artesia improved to 2-2 on the season; 2-0 against 5A competition.

“We’re real pleased overall,” head coach Rex Henderson said Saturday. “We’ve been working towards consistency in all respects, and I think that you saw a lot more of that on Friday night. We’re starting to get there.”

Erik Cueto eludes Deming’s Jose Jimenez en route to a 35-yard touchdown during the first quarter Friday at Bulldog Bowl. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

Not long after the fans had made their way back into the bleachers from the Victory Lane, the Orange Crush defense was bringing an abbreviated end to Deming’s inaugural drive, as Colin Flood stepped in front of a Daniel Garcia pass at midfield.

That put the ball in the hands of a Bulldog offense that had not warmed up quickly in previous bouts, its athletes struggling to sync their efforts. It soon became evident that was not to be the case Friday, as – despite a holding penalty – junior quarterback Clay Houghtaling fired off a 10-yard pass to AJ Estrada before turning speedy back Alex Fernandez loose on the end around.

Fernandez left the Deming D in his dust from 36 yards out to put Artesia on top, 7-0, with nine minutes to go in the first quarter.

Two minutes later, the ‘Dogs would visit the checkerboard again as – following a three and out by the Wildcats that ended in a shanked punt – Houghtaling needed just one short toss to Erik Cueto, who legged out the rest from the 35, to make it a two-score game.

Not ones to miss out on the fun, the Crush followed by tacking on seven of their own at the 4:13 mark when Camren Saxon jarred the ball out of the hands of Garcia and into those of a well-positioned Anthony Armendariz, who took the fumble 35 yards the other way.

By that point, the Bulldogs were on a steamroll and loving it.

Alex Fernandez spies open field as he bursts around the corner for a 36-yard TD run, Artesia’s first of the game Friday. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

The defense forced another quick three and out to provide their offensive counterparts with a short field once again, and following a nine-yard run by Jagger Donaghe and short passes to Cueto and Fernandez, Houghtaling took a turn from the 21, mowing down a third of the Deming defense and taking the rest for a ride to the six, from whence he found Braxton McDonald to cap off a 28-0 first for Artesia.

To the Wildcats’ credit, they regrouped in the second quarter, using workhorse back Ceazer Chavez to leg out 80 yards, the final 65 of which Chavez took in bulk to put Deming on the board, 28-6 after the missed conversion attempt.

The ‘Dogs had an immediate answer in the form of a huge 80-yard kick return touchdown by Cueto, but again Chavez hauled his team into scoring position before James Carroll took it in from six yards out to make it 35-12.

Artesia would use up the majority of the final five minutes of the half, however, sprinkling passes about – including a 24-yarder from Houghtaling to JR Bustamante on fourth down and 15 at midfield – en route to the Deming 10 before unleashing Donaghe for the score that would stand at the break, 42-12.

With 10:19 remaining in the third, the Bulldogs put the 35-point mercy-rule clock in motion with a scoring drive that culminated in a three-yard Donaghe plunge.

Colin Flood intercepts a Daniel Garcia pass to end the game’s opening drive. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

A turnover on downs by the ‘Cats would mark their only drive of the period and – as it turned out – their last of the game.

Following a 31-yard TD pass from Houghtaling to Donaghe with 14 seconds left in the third, Canon Carter charged upfield to recover the ensuing kick, putting the Big Orange offense back on the field to start the fourth.

And while the second string’s first attempt at securing a first down was thwarted, Eli Hollers recovered a Wildcat fumble on their first play from scrimmage to give the backups a second chance.

This time, they moved the ball effectively from the Deming 44, with sophomore quarterback Cord Cox doing the passing and Nathan Barrera the leg work through first and goal at the Wildcat five. After an incomplete pass, Cox proceeded to take a knee as the final seconds wound down.

The Bulldogs finished with 308 yards of offense on the game, 217 passing and 91 rushing. Houghtaling was 14 of 21 for 191 yards and three scores, while Cueto, Bustamante, Donaghe and McDonald led the receiving corps with 57, 43, 40 and 30 yards respectively. Donaghe was 10-36 rushing with two TDs.

Jordan Pando and Jonathan Flores work together to take down Deming’s Ceazer Chavez. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

The Crush held the Wildcats to 262 total yards in the contest, 211 ground, 51 air. Chavez accounted for the bulk of those with 155 yards and one touchdown on 20 carries. Garcia was six of 11 for 51 yards.

“Offensively, we had a little better rhythm and were doing things a little more consistently from play to play last night,” said Henderson. “I think it was good for those guys to have a game where they really came out and did some things well in order to kind of reestablish some of the confidence I think we’re used to having with our skill kids.

“Defensively, we continued to play well. Deming has been able to move the ball and put up points on everybody, so I was real pleased that we were able to contain them, get some turnovers, and do all the things you need to be able to do to win big games. Our kicking game is also starting to show more signs of being where we want it to be.”

From on-field production to the sideline, Henderson said the Bulldogs showed marked improvement Friday – a trend they’ll need to continue this week as they prepare to take on Class 6A top-ranked Cleveland on the road.

Clay Houghtaling drags the Deming defense along for extra yardage. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

The Storm are currently 4-0 on the year with wins over Onate (51-0), El Paso Franklin (35-21), Eldorado (42-28) and Mayfield (41-6).

“We’re going to stay the course and keep working on the things we’ve been working on,” Henderson said. “We feel like we have the ability to do all the things we want to, even if we haven’t showed it all the time in games, and our offense and defense are going to continue this week to work on those things.

“Cleveland is going to give us a lot of looks on both sides of the ball, and that allows us to work on everything a little bit and make sure we’re developing in all the areas we need to. It should be a good week of practice for us.”

Anthony Armendariz takes a Deming fumble in for a touchdown. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

  • 9-16-HOMECOMING-DECADES-1968

    The Artesia High School Bulldog football program honored its state champions from years ending in eight during Friday’s Homecoming game at Bulldog Bowl. The athletes received special commemorative coins made in honor of their achievements by former coach Vernon Asbill. Pictured above is the state championship team of 1968. (Brienne Green - Daily Press)

  • 9-16-HOMECOMING-DECADES-1978

    The Artesia High School Bulldog football program honored its state champions from years ending in eight during Friday’s Homecoming game at Bulldog Bowl. The athletes received special commemorative coins made in honor of their achievements by former coach Vernon Asbill. Pictured above is the state championship team of 1978. (Brienne Green - Daily Press)

  • 9-16-HOMECOMING-DECADES-1998

    The Artesia High School Bulldog football program honored its state champions from years ending in eight during Friday’s Homecoming game at Bulldog Bowl. The athletes received special commemorative coins made in honor of their achievements by former coach Vernon Asbill. Pictured above is the state championship team of 1998. (Brienne Green - Daily Press)