Published: 1:37 pm, Sun. Nov. 25th, 2018Updated: 1:32 pm
The third quarter of Friday’s Class 5A state semifinal between Artesia and Roswell High at Wool Bowl may as well have been played in the Twilight Zone.
The Bulldogs trotted off the field at halftime carrying a 21-7 and having delivered an overall solid performance. The Coyotes charged back onto it after the break with a chip on their shoulder and a Cinderella season to save.
The difference was night and day.
After limiting Roswell to 150 total yards in the first 24 minutes of play, Artesia’s defense was suddenly hard-pressed to stop the Coyotes. It wasn’t that the boys in red were doing anything drastically different. Their offensive game plan continued to consist of runs by back Justin Carrasco and quarterback Ethan Valenzuela, and passes – of increasing distances – from the latter to Jasia Reese.
They simple began doing it all with a vengeance, and when the ‘Dogs committed a few uncharacteristic errors in the midst of the whirlwind, they only served to fuel the Roswell rally.
When the dust had settled, the Coyotes had reeled off four touchdowns – one from short yardage following a blocked punt and one a pick six – and subsequently taken their first lead of the night. Artesia was able to trim it back before quarter’s end, 35-28, with a score of their own, but Roswell capped what was essentially their final drive of the nightmare third in the opening seconds of the fourth to make it 42-28.
Both the Bulldogs and their fans were, needless to say, shell shocked. But to their credit, the boys in orange did not throw in the towel.
“I was really proud of our kids for how hard they fought,” head coach Rex Henderson said Saturday. “It would’ve been real easy to give up, I think, when things snowballed in the third quarter. That was about as bad a quarter as you could have, and they fought back and gave themselves a chance to win.
“Roswell just made a few more plays than us in the end.”
Two in particular wound up making the ultimate difference.
The ‘Dogs spent the final 12 minutes of their season Friday storming back into contention. With a solid mix of pass and run, they got in from the 11-yard line with 6:53 to go in the contest on a pass from senior quarterback Trent Taylor to classmate JR Bustamante to pull back within a score.
The Bulldog D shook off their troubles and did what needed done, forcing a Coyote turnover on downs at the Artesia 38 to return the ball to the offense with precious minutes ticking away.
It took nearly all of them for Taylor to pass his way to a first down at the Roswell 15, but following a three-yard toss to Alex Fernandez, Taylor found workhorse senior RB Jagger Donaghe from the 12 to – following Favian Carrasco’s crucial PAT – tie the game at 42-all.
That touchdown came with 14 seconds on the clock and had fans still existing outside of the fifth dimension preparing for what seemed to be inevitable overtime.
Starting from his own 35, however, Valenzuela was able to launch a 38-yard completion to the first athlete not named Jasia Reese of the night, Jesus Molina, to give the Coyotes a first down at the Bulldog 27. Following a timeout, most also assumed Roswell would be looking to run the ball to set up a potential game-ending field goal.
But the Coyotes hadn’t come to play it safe Friday. Valenzuela rolled out and fired a pass toward the Artesia bench that was nabbed by Dylan Tucker, who proceeded to dart up the sideline and into the end zone as the clock hit zero.
And Roswell’s newfound fandom erupted.
It was a stunning way to end the 2018 season for Artesia. The Coyotes, meanwhile, move on to this weekend’s state championship game, in which they’ll host former Artesia quarterback and assistant coach Jeremy Maupin’s No. 3 Los Lunas Tigers, who topped Goddard 41-20 Saturday.
“When you get two teams that are evenly matched, whichever team steps up and makes the plays is going to win,” Henderson said. “I thought our kids did that at several points throughout the game, but Roswell just made a couple more to win it.
“But again, I was proud of the way our kids fought back. We started well, and once we overcame that momentum swing, I thought we battled real hard to get back in it.”
It was Artesia that had set the tone in the early goings of the contest, scoring to cap the opening drive, then forcing a quick punt to end Roswell’s lone series of the first quarter.
Taylor spread the wealth to three different receivers as the ‘Dogs found their rhythm to start the game, and after securing a first down at the Roswell 17, Donaghe took it from there to put Artesia up 7-0.
Valenzuela was able to break loose for a 12-yard run on the Coyotes’ inaugural play from scrimmage, but the defense stiffened from there, forcing the punt and bringing about a clock-controlling drive by the offense that covered 81 yards in 14 plays before culminating in another Donaghe TD run – this time from the one – with 10:14 to go in the half.
On the legs of Carrasco and Valenzuela, the Coyotes were able to breach the Bulldogs’ red zone on their second possession of the half but were stymied there, as two short runs by the QB and a pair of incomplete passes resulted in a turnover on downs.
Artesia, however, was unable to get out of their own territory on the ensuing series, returning the ball to Roswell, which finally got on the board with a 10-yard run by Carrasco with 46 seconds remaining.
As is often the case, that was sufficient time for the Bulldogs to answer back, as a 41-yard catch-and-run from Taylor to speedy Erik Cueto set the ‘Dogs up at the Coyote 24 and, three plays later, a 20-yard toss from Taylor to Donaghe with four seconds on the clock put Artesia up 21-7 at intermission.
Roswell’s runners apparently added afterburners at the break, however, and the Bulldogs were quickly caught on their heels.
Valenzuela and Carrasco carried the Coyotes to the Artesia 40 to start the half before Valenzuela found Reese from the 40 to make it 21-14, and after the blocked punt that gave Roswell the ball at the Bulldog 14, Carrasco charged in from the 11 to knot things up.
An interception on Artesia’s first play from scrimmage by Dominic Nava and 37-yard return to the end zone put Roswell out front 28-21, and after a quick TOD by the ‘Dogs, another Valenzuela-to-Reese connection, this time from 28 yards out, made it 35-21 Coyotes.
The Bulldogs lifted the fog long enough to score what turned out to be a vital touchdown with 2:35 to go in the third on a nine-yard pass from Taylor to Fernandez that allowed them to exit the quarter trailing by just seven, 35-28.
The damage, unfortunately, had been enough to set the stage for the Coyotes.
Artesia finished with 430 yards of offense on the night, with Taylor culminating his high-school career going 31 of 45 for 350 yards and four touchdowns. Fernandez was on the receiving end of seven of those passes for 68 yards and a score, Bustamante was 6-50 with a touchdown, and Donaghe went 4-43 receiving with two TDs and 11-69 rushing with two more scores.
Following a 325-yard second half, Roswell finished with 475 yards total, 273 on the ground, with Carrasco going 24-131 and Valenzuela 15-105. Valenzuela was eight of 15 for 202 yards passing and three TDs, Reese catching two of those and finishing 6-137.
While the ending wasn’t what anyone would have written, the Bulldogs came a long way from the hardships that plagued them early in the year.
“I’m real proud of our seniors,” Henderson said. “This group has been in the state game their sophomore and junior years, and I know they wanted to do it again, but it’s a hard thing to get there repeatedly. But I was proud of how they battled this year. They overcame a lot of adversity. There were various things during the year they had to deal with, and they grew up a lot.
“I think you saw a lot of maturity out of this group. From a year ago to the end of this year, they’ve grown, and that’s part of what you’re looking for, even if it doesn’t translate into a championship. They came a long way as young men, and that’s a big thing. They were right there. It’s not like they weren’t in it. They were a play or two here and there throughout the game of that being a different outcome. It would’ve been easy for this team to get down after the 0-2 start to the year, but we really had a good season after that.”
The Bulldogs will bid farewell this year to a large senior class of 37, including some key athletes who’ve been making a difference in the program for all three years of their high-school careers. But while the losses will certainly be felt, the team has a solid core returning in 2019, as well.
“As always, we have some good people coming back,” Henderson said. “And I’m proud of the whole team but really proud of those seniors for their leadership, maturity and growth. I think there’s a lot of things nobody would ever know except for the people within the program that you can see as areas of growth with these kids.”