Published: 12:05 am, Sun. Aug. 25th, 2019
Mistakes are to be expected in the first game of the season, but for the majority of two quarters’ worth of football Friday at Ralph Bowyer Stadium in Carlsbad, the Bulldog football team was doing enough right to compensate for them.
Unfortunately, before half’s end, that scale began to tip the other way. And that was the beginning of the end for Artesia in the 103rd battle of the Eddy County War, won by Carlsbad, 48-35.
After scoring to cap their first three offensive series of 2019, the ‘Dogs were forced to punt away their final possession of the first half. And while they’d score twice more in the second, those touchdowns were sandwiched between a pair of interceptions and a turnover on downs that put the game on ice for the Cavemen.
But despite the setbacks, there were a few bright spots for an Artesia team that is young on the whole and highly inexperienced on the defensive side of the ball.
“We did some really good things at times and then some things that weren’t so good,”
head coach Rex Henderson said Saturday. “The not-so-good ended up hurting us quite a bit, but on the whole, I think there were a lot of positives there.”
The Bulldogs finished the evening with 322 yards of offense, a respectable total for an opener, but while senior quarterback Clay Houghtaling battled through a bout riddled with errant snaps and loose linemen to finish 24 of 35 for 311 yards and a touchdown, Artesia’s rushing total was just 11, hindered by negative yardage due to the issues in the backfield.
The defense, meanwhile, was able to post a trio of tackles for lost yards and two for no gain, as well as force a punt and an interception, but the Cavemen would score on all but those two of their nine complete offensive series.
Further complicating matters was the issue of penalty yards, which fans can interpret how they like: Artesia was flagged 12 times for 122 lost yards, Carlsbad six for 49.
“Carlsbad was a little more experienced team,” Henderson said. “There were a lot of seniors who gave us a lot of problems, so I think the combination of their athleticism and our firstgame mistakes was kind of the story of the night.
“I thought they played well, but I thought there were some things that we could’ve done better, obviously, that could’ve made things go a little differently.”
After Carlsbad punted away its opening possession, the ‘Dogs used a big play to set up their inaugural TD, as Houghtaling found Jacob Barrera from the Caveman 37-yard line. Barrera initially batted the ball but was able to dive to make the catch on its way back down to give Artesia a first-and-goal at the one. Running back Nathan Barrera would take it from there to make it 7-0 ‘Dogs at the 8:45 mark, following the Simon Jimenez PAT.
Carlsbad would answer with a clock-chewing, 13-play drive that ended in a one-yard plunge by Nate Najar to knot things up at 2:28.
The Bulldogs were able to swing the momentum pendulum back in their direction a few seconds later, however, scoring with 50 seconds remaining in the opening quarter on a fiveyard dash by Nathan Barrera, who took his own conversion over the goal line as well to put Artesia up 15-7.
The second quarter was a blow-for-blow affair, as the Cavemen responded with a three-yard Najar TD run to make it 15-14, the ‘Dogs came back with a one-yard score by Kaden Williams for a 22-14 lead, and Carlsbad answered again two minutes later on an eight-yard run by Najar to once again pull within one, 22-21.
Unfortunately, the Bulldogs would be the first to break the chain, as a sack for a loss of 11 led to a punt and gave Carlsbad the opening they needed to take their first lead of the night, 27-22, on a two-yard score from Jordyn Barker.
An interception to start the second half further set the tone for the Cavemen, who capitalized with a nine-yard Najar touchdown.
To the ‘Dogs’ credit, they kept themselves within striking distance for the bulk of the half, scoring on a three-yard pass from Houghtaling to Jacob Creighton with 4:06 left in the third to make it 34-28, then answering a three-yard rushing TD from Carlsbad’s Jevin Valdez as the fourth quarter began with a four-yard Nathan Barrera run to stay within seven, 42-35.
And when Jayven Ortega nabbed a Kaden Smith pass deep in Artesia territory, the Sea of Orange was back on its feet as the offense retook the field with a chance to tie the game. An incomplete pass was followed by a pick, however, to essentially put things in the bag for the Cavemen.
Najar passed the 200-yard rushing mark on his 32nd carry of the night before rounding out the final score, 48-35, with a 12-yard scamper, and Artesia’s final opportunity would end in a sack and a turnover on downs.
“The goals we talked about for our first game we didn’t really accomplish,” Henderson said. “So again, while we did some things well, we didn’t consistently execute on offense, and we didn’t consistently get lined up correctly and read correctly on defense. And those are things that end up costing you when you’re playing good teams.
“But this was a good early-season lesson for us. The guys were able to see the things they can do better, and I think they understand where the breakdowns were and what we have to do to fix those and look a lot better moving forward.”
On the receiving end of 10 of Houghtaling’s 24 completions was Braxton McDonald, 10-156 on the night, followed by Jacob Barrera, 3-65. Nathan Barrera finished with 17 yards and three touchdowns on nine carries.
Najar was 33-212 with five TDs for the Cavemen, while Smith finished six of 11 for 116 yards and a pick.
Next up on the Bulldogs’ docket will be their 2019 home opener Friday against Hobbs. The Class 6A Eagles fell to Clovis in their opener, 42-16 in Clovis.
“We’re still going to be looking to get consistent on offense this week and to be able to line up well on defense and read our keys,” said Henderson. “Those things take time, but we’re going to keep working at them.”