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CLOBBER THE COYOTES — An Artesia Bulldog prepares to rough up a Roswell Coyote in this drawing by Artesia High School graduate Maegan Lemon. The ‘Dogs will kick off the “second season” of District 4-AAAAA play at 7 p.m. today against Roswell at Bulldog Bowl. Roswell High is currently ranked No. 1 in Class 5A in the most recent New Mexico Overtime Sports Center coaches’ poll, while Artesia sits at No. 3. Today’s bout also marks the Bulldogs’ final home game of the 2018 regular season, so fans are encouraged to turn out in force to cheer Artesia on to victory.

After several consecutive days of what most would consider to be football weather, the clouds parted over Artesia this morning.

Mild temperatures in the low-60s are expected for game time, with only a trace chance of precipitation – almost as if the football gods conjured a perfect evening for the Bulldog football team’s most significant outing to date.

Tonight marks the start of the “second season” – the ones that count. District 4-AAAA. It marks Artesia’s first game back following their 2018 open date. It’s the ‘Dogs’ final home game of the regular season, with the remainder of their district slate playing out on the road.

And it finds the third-ranked ‘Dogs – according to the latest New Mexico Overtime Sports Center coaches’ poll – squaring off against Class 5A’s top-ranked team: the Coyotes of Roswell High.

Just a short drive down the road from the Alien City, Artesia has been aware for several years now of the Coyotes’ quiet transformation from easy pickings to a state-crown contender. The rest of the state is finally coming around to the realization, as well.

Roswell stands at 6-1 on the season, their lone loss coming to Hobbs – 42-20 – Sept. 7 on the road. They first shook up the state standings Sept. 14, thumping then-top-ranked Los Lunas 42-20 in Tiger Country. They followed that with a 54-0 blanking of Miyamura, a sound 35-8 victory over 2017 state runner-up Belen, a 55-6 win over El Paso Cathedral, and – last week – a 26-14 defeat of Piedra Vista at Wool Bowl.

And they’ve accomplished it all with the significant assistance of their fleet feet, banking on getting behind the defense, knowing few can catch them once they do.

“They’re fast,” head coach Rex Henderson said today. “That’s the big thing. They’ve got a lot of speed, and they use it well.

“They’re going to try to run the ball, but they’re throwing more than they have in the past, just trying to get the ball in the hands of their playmakers and letting them run from there. And they do a good job of it. They move the ball real well on offense, and then those same guys are also returning kicks. They’re a good football team.”

A healthy amount of respect for what the Coyotes are capable of has served the Bulldogs well in their preparations for the annual bout. Last season, the ‘Dogs defeated Roswell 42-7 at Bulldog Bowl, compiling a 35-0 lead by the half and coasting from there.

None will be taking the field expecting similar ease today.

Roswell posted just three yards passing in that meeting but will, as Henderson pointed out, likely be taking to the air more this time around, with backs Jasia Reese and Joel Sanchez, and receivers Dylan Tucker and Dominic Nava all capable of creating the big play off the arm of senior quarterback Ethan Valenzuela.

Senior running back Justin Carrasco, meanwhile, is a threat for both big and consistent gains, while the skill set minus the QB and RB also start on the other side of the ball.

“Again, there’s good speed on their defense,” Henderson said. “Some of those same guys are playing both ways, and they’ve got good speed in their back end.

“They’re not as big a Roswell team as they usually are along the lines, but they play real physical on both the defensive and offensive lines.”

Key for the Orange Crush tonight will be ensuring they take the Coyotes down when they have the chance in order to prevent any escapes that would allow Roswell to shift gears.

“We need to make sure that we wrap up and make tackles at first contact,” Henderson said. “They’ll try to get you in a set that gives them an advantage, so it’s going to be important that we’re sound in our assignments. We have to tackle at the point of contact, because they’re good at making people miss.”

The Bulldog offense, meanwhile, will be led onto the field tonight by senior quarterback Trent Taylor. Taylor has been out with an injury since Artesia’s second game of the season against Hobbs.

“He’s excited,” said Henderson. “He’s been kind of anxious to get back on the field.
“Offensively, we need to be ready to move the football with a lot of consistency tonight. If we can play consistent offense, I think it’ll help us a lot.”

Taylor’s teammates are equally amped for the opportunity to open district play with a test against the best.

“Our kids are really excited,” Henderson said. “They’re ready to get district play started. They feel like they’ve really grown up a lot this year and come a long way, so they’re excited to get out there and play.”