Published: 12:05 am, Sun. Sep. 15th, 2019
For the past several seasons now, Artesia has been the heavy favorite in its ongoing series with Deming, meaning the eyes of the state are generally elsewhere in Week Four.
That combined with the fact that the trek west to Wildcat Country is a tiring one by bus has resulted more than once in a few hiccups on the part of the Bulldogs, who have trouble getting going in the contest and are forced to come on late for the win. Not so long ago, in fact – in 2013 – that variable resulted in a three-point loss.
But the 2019 ‘Dogs showed few signs of the I-10 West Blues, taking a 41-6 lead over the ‘Cats in at the half en route to a 55-6 victory that bumps them to 3-1 on the early season.
“We were really pleased with the way we executed both offensively and defensively last night,” head coach Rex Henderson said Saturday. “I think when we look at the earlyseason goals we’ve been trying to accomplish, like establishing more consistency on offense, I feel like we hit that in this game.
Offensively, we were moving the ball, and without some of the penalties and issues that have plagued us over the past few games.
“Defensively, with the exception of that one drive, we stopped them pretty well, and they’ve got some guys who are really explosive, so I think it was a good, sound victory for us and a good road win. I thought we really handled the road trip well this time and played about as well as we’ve played in Deming in quite a while.”
Apart from a first-quarter fumble and a fourth-quarter punt with the second string in the fray, the Big Orange offense scored to cap the remainder of their offensive drives on the night, while the Orange Crush defense held Deming to a single second-quarter score in the contest, forcing three turnovers – one a pick six – four turnovers on downs, and two punts.
Artesia would set the tone off the opening kick Friday on the Wildcats’ grass field, which was fortunately left spared by the heavy rains that pelted the area. Following a solid return by Braxton McDonald that set the ‘Dogs up near midfield, senior quarterback Clay Houghtaling distributed passes to Erik Cueto and Johntae Rodriguez and joined running back Nathan Barrera for a carry apiece to bring about first and goal at the Deming three-yard line.
Houghtaling would call his own number from there for the score with 10:26 remaining in the first quarter.
On the legs of standout RB Ceazer Chavez, the Wildcats were able to breach Bulldog territory on their inaugural series, but following the second sack of first-half quarterback Jesse Varela, the ‘Cats’ drive stalled, and the ‘Dogs were able to take over at their own 27.
A fumble at midfield would put the ball back in the hands of Deming, but the boys in blue returned the favor two plays later, as defensive lineman Xavier Ybarra forced a coughup and linebacker Joe Palma was there to pounce on it at the Wildcat 40.
Houghtaling wasted no time capitalizing on the momentum re-swing, carrying the ball to the 33 before finding McDonald for 29 yards and Rodriguez for the final four to make it 13-0 after the failed conversion attempt.
The ‘Cats next drive would carry into the second quarter but end in a punt from the Artesia 49, and Houghtaling would this time find Matthew Davis from 13 yards out to make it 20-0 with 10:22 to go in the half.
Chavez proceeded to haul Deming from its own 14 to midfield on the Wildcats’ ensuing drive, and after Varela broke loose for a 35-yard scamper, Joey Reza carried thrice from the Artesia 19 before finally reaching the goal line from the five to put the ‘Cats on the board, 20-6.
The ‘Dogs wasted no time taking the wind back out of their sails, however, as Houghtaling hit McDonald for a 60-yard catch-and-run TD on Artesia’s first play from scrimmage to make it 27-6 12 seconds later.
The boys in orange followed a three-and-out punt with a big return by Rodriguez and subsequent short drive that saw the junior finish what he nearly started on special teams, nabbing a 13-yard touchdown pass from Houghtaling to put Artesia on top 34-6 with 4:22 on the clock.
The Bulldogs then got one more big play in the books prior to the break, as – on third and 10 from the Artesia 22 – Alex Harmon intercepted a Varela pass and took it 82 yards to the house to round out the first-half tally, 41-6.
With the mercy-rule clock in effect to start the second half, Artesia scored on their first possession of the third, with Houghtaling finding Cueto from the Wildcat 12. A pair of Deming turnovers on downs sandwiched a Bulldog punt, but the ‘Dogs’ second string were able to score with just over a minute to go in the contest on a one-yard run by QB Cord Cox.
A pair of penalties on Artesia pushed the Wildcats to the Bulldog 33-yard line with time running out, and a final pass attempt by second-half signal-caller Manuel Aguilar ended in an interception by Alfredo Duarte to put the evening on ice.
Artesia finished with 297 yards of offense in the clock-abbreviated contest, with Houghtaling going 15 of 18 for 215 yards passing and five touchdowns on the night. McDonald led the receiving corps with five catches for 111 yards and a touchdown, Cueto was 5-46 with a TD, and Rodriguez finished 3-32 with two scores.
Nathan Barrera carried the ball four times on the game for 25 yards, followed by Houghtaling and Kaden Williams with 16 rushing yards apiece.
The Crush, meanwhile, held Deming to 218 total yards, 48 in the second half. The ‘Cats did the bulk of their damage on the turf (39-199), with Chavez leading the way with 65 yards on 18 carries. Deming passed for just 19 yards total on the night. The Bulldog D also racked up 17 negative yards on three sacks and three tackles for a loss, with lineman Wesley Knowlton downing Varela twice for nine lost yards and catching Chavez once in the backfield for a loss of five.
The Bulldogs will now have a week to prepare for their most significant challenge to date when the Class 6A Cleveland Storm come to town Friday. The Storm currently stand at 3-1 on the season with a 50-0 forfeit win over Onate and 63-21 and 35-10 victories respectively over Eldorado and Mayfield under their belts, along with a 36-13 loss in Week Two to El Paso Franklin.
Cleveland is ranked first atop the MaxPreps 6A and power polls, and second in the New Mexico Overtime Sports Center coaches’ poll behind Volcano Vista.
“We’re going to have to be really sound in what we do against Cleveland,” Henderson said. “They’re going to be big, fast and well-coached, so we’re going to try to just keep things simple so that our guys can go in there and get after it without having to think a lot about what they need to do.
“We’re going to need to be able to make some big plays and do things to get the momentum going our way. It’s going to be a good matchup for us at this point in the season because we’re going to have to go all out in all three phases and do the sort of things a talented football team makes you have to do.
It’ll be a good challenge for us.”