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Braxton McDonald heads over the goal line with a Clay Houghtaling touchdown pass and a defender during the first half Friday in Alamogordo. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

As the Bulldog football team was wrapping up its 2018 regular season with a 55-13 victory over Alamogordo on the road, word was coming in from the Alien City: The Roswell High Coyotes had defeated Goddard by a field goal, 24-21.

For Artesia fans, the news created a little emotional turmoil.

On the one hand, it’s a rare day when the Bulldog faithful would be rooting for Goddard to do anything other than trip and fall, preferably into a mud puddle, but a Rocket win is what Artesia needed in order to take the runner-up spot in District 4-AAAAA.

To be clear, that runner-up spot was designated for NMAA use only. In the grand scheme of things, the Bulldogs, Coyotes and Rockets are the 2018 three-way champions of D4. But in order to break things down for playoff seeding, the tie was broken by way of point spreads.

As it stood afterward, despite Artesia, Roswell and Goddard having comprised the top three teams in Class 5A for weeks now in the polls, that breakdown allowed District 5 champion Los Lunas to vault over the Bulldogs into the third seed Saturday night, placing Artesia at No. 4.

Regardless, however, the boys in orange secured a first-round bye and will now wait to host the winner of No. 12 Del Norte vs. No. 5 Piedra Vista Nov. 16 or 17.

“We tied for a district championship, which is obviously not the way you want it to be, but as far as overall, when you look at our district, we all took turns beating each other in close games, so clearly, we’re all about evenly matched,” head coach Rex Henderson said Saturday. “So in these coming weeks, we now have to make sure we’re continuing to do the things that are going to make us better so that when we hopefully get a chance to see one or both of those teams again, we’ll be much better than we were the first time.”

Ty Johnson (17) takes down Alamogordo’s Julio Mendoza as Johan Corral (48) moves in to assist Friday in Alamo. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

State seeding and selection is, for the most part, beyond anyone’s grasp. Yes, a win over Goddard Oct. 26 would have assured the ‘Dogs of many things, but the chips fell, the Rockets didn’t, and there was one thing Friday night in chilly Alamogordo that the boys in orange could control: How they closed out the second season against the Tigers.

On that front, Artesia left no doubt, compiling a 42-0 lead over Alamo by the half, then letting the second string take the field for final 24 minutes, which zipped along with the help of the mercy-rule clock. They ultimately defeated the Tigers 55-13, outgaining Alamogordo 349-197.

“I thought we played well,” said Henderson. “We came out and executed offensively and defensively the way we needed to, and it was a solid performance by our guys.”

With junior quarterback Clay Houghtaling at the helm, the Bulldogs marched up the field on the game’s opening possession with passes distributed to a variety of receivers before landing at the Tiger 14-yard line, from whence Houghtaling hit sophomore Braxton McDonald for the score with 8:28 to go in the first quarter.

Alamogordo’s inaugural drive would end in a turnover on downs at their own 37, and the ‘Dogs made quick work of the short field, scoring in three plays, the last a six-yard run by Jagger Donaghe that made it 14-0.

Tiger quarterback Bradon Martin fumbled away Alamo’s next possession at the end of a 13-yard run, and Ty Johnson was there to pounce on the loose ball, giving the Bulldog offense another miniscule distance to cover.

A 23-yard run by JR Bustamante and seven-yard pass from Houghtaling to Alex Fernandez later, Houghtaling called his own number from the one to make it 21-0 with 1:16 on the clock.

That was enough time for one more Orange Crush-forced turnover, as Darian Fernandez snagged a Martin pass at the Tiger 16-yard line. But although that gave Artesia its shortest field yet, the ‘Dogs would turn the ball over on downs at the Tiger 15 just prior to the start of the second quarter.

Darian Fernandez was apparently determined to earn an assist, however, sacking Martin for a loss of two to help facilitate a three-and-out punt, and the Bulldogs would bump their lead to 28-0 on a two-yard plunge by Donaghe.

Another Tiger three and out was followed by a Bulldog fumble, but corner Jordan Pando would take the ball right back, snatching a Martin pass and heading 35 yards the other way for the pick six with 5:59 remaining in the half.

Linebacker Colin Flood kept Alamogordo’s offense on its heels a few seconds later, also intercepting a Martin pass on the Tigers’ first play from scrimmage at the Alamo 38, and with 2:32 to go, Donaghe set the halftime tally with an eight-yard run up the gut.

Artesia’s backups were able to get a taste of district action as the second half commenced. And while Alamogordo took advantage, scoring to cap their first drive on a three-yard run by Elias Gonzales, the second-string offense would also punch it in on their inaugural attempt, as sophomore QB Cord Cox legged out 36 yards, then hit Jayven Ortega with a 29-yard TD pass to make it 49-7 with 25 seconds left in the third quarter.

Josh Ebert would help set up the ‘Dogs’ final touchdown of the night, jumping on an Alamogordo fumble at the Tiger 14. Cox hit Matthew Davis for eight yards and Nathan Barrera did the rest, running it over the goal line from the six to put Artesia on top 55-7 with 10:18 to go in the game.

Bulldog senior running back Jagger Donaghe looks for an open lane Friday. Donaghe finished the contest with three rushing touchdowns for Artesia. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

Alamogordo closed out its season with one final score, a one-yard push by Martin, at the 4:48 mark, and the 55-13 tally would hold from there.

“I thought it was good we were able to get some of our younger kids and our backups in and get them some extended playing time in the second half,” Henderson said. “It was good experience for them and good evaluation with the kind of reps we haven’t had since the end of the JV season.

“We were also able to give some of our seniors some reps they haven’t gotten, which was encouraging for them. And also on the positive side, we came out of the game pretty healthy. After two weeks of pretty physical games, we should be feeling good going into next week as far as how we’re executing and how we feel physically.”

Of Artesia’s 349 yards of offense on the evening, 220 came by air, 129 by land. Houghtaling was 16 of 24 for 166 yards and a touchdown, while Cox finished four of six for 54 yards and a score. McDonald led the receiving corps with three catches for 52 yards, followed by Bustamante (3-36) and Fernandez (4-30).

Cox and Barrera were both four for 29 rushing on the evening and Fernandez 2-25, while Donaghe finished six for 22 with a trio of touchdowns.

The ‘Dogs’ defense held Alamo to 197 total yards and forced five turnovers, with the Crush starters limiting the Tigers to just 42 yards in the first half.

Now, the Bulldogs will turn their sights to playoff prep, with two weeks separating them from either the Knights (4-6) or the Panthers (7-3).

“This week, we’ll be going back to the fundamentals and making sure we’re sound in what we’re doing, focusing on the little things and making sure we’re doing them well,” said Henderson. “We’ve come a long way from where we started. Overall, we had a good regular season, and I’m really proud of what these guys have done and what they’ve battled through.

“To play a tougher schedule than a lot of people play and pull a third seed out of it is a credit to their work, the fight they’ve shown, and the way they’ve competed throughout the year.”