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Artesia leads 6A’s No. 2 team at the break before stumbling down stretch

Anyone who doesn’t believe momentum plays a significant role in the outcome of sporting events needs only reference Friday’s game between Artesia and Cleveland.

Before an appreciative home crowd at Bulldog Bowl, the Artesia boys fought Class 6A’s second-ranked squad tooth and nail, leading the Storm at the half, 20-14, and trailing them by just a point, 27-26, going into the fourth.

But a turnover on downs had essentially handed Cleveland its final score of the third, and when that was followed by two more Artesia TODs and a three-and-out punt in the face of three consecutive fourth-quarter scores by the Storm, the wind visibly left the Bulldogs’ sails.

The energy that had propelled them through the blow-for-blow contest to that point was gone.

And although the ‘Dogs would put together a scoring drive on their final possession, the result of that momentum swing was a 47-33 loss that could very well have been the upset of the night.

It was a frustrating outcome, but the effort put forth by the boys in orange was impressive regardless and certainly made the state sit up and take notice while the defending 6A runnersup were on the ropes.

When the Storm kicked off the contest with a nine-play, 67-yard touchdown that was followed by Artesia’s first turnover on downs of the evening, then returned to the Bulldog red zone from their own 36-yard line on one play, optimism was running a bit low for the Sea of Orange.

But as yet more proof of the power of momentum, a fumble into the end zone by Cleveland was scooped up by Artesia for the touchback and provided the spark the ‘Dogs needed to regroup and refocus.

With senior quarterback Clay Houghtaling sprinkling passes to Erik Cueto, Johntae Rodriguez, and Isaac Rodriguez in between runs by the QB and Kaden Williams, Artesia was able to drive to the Storm 38. Following a pair of penalties, the ‘Dogs landed at the 16, and Williams would take it from there to put the Big Orange on the board as the second quarter began, 7-6 after the missed PAT.

The Storm wasted little time responding, riding Dorian Lewis to midfield before scoring on a 46-yard pass from Jeff Davison to Trevon Dennard, but the ‘Dogs put together a quick response of their own, marching from their own eight to the Cleveland 31 on four passes from Houghtaling – including an across-the-body strike to Johntae Rodriguez – and a Nathan Barrera run.

From there, Houghtaling found Braxton McDonald for the score to make it 14-13 with 7:02 to go in the half.

The Orange Crush defense finally got the stop they needed to give Artesia a chance to take the lead, forcing a Storm punt from midfield. And although it was downed at the Bulldog oneyard line, the offense found its rhythm, with Houghtaling firing passes to a variety of receivers and Williams darting through traffic to reach first and goal at the Storm four.

Two plays later, Barrera would take it in from the two to give Artesia a 20-14 lead with 19 seconds on the clock. Cleveland took a shot downfield on their first play from scrimmage, but it was nabbed by Canon Carter to preserve that tally at the break.

As the Albuquerque sports media spread the word of the Storm’s halftime deficit, the ‘Dogs unfortunately fell out of sync on their opening drive of the second half, punting on a three-and-out that let Cleveland set up shop near midfield. Eight plays later, Lewis would barrel over the goal line from the three to tie things up at 20-all after the failed conversion attempt.

The Bulldogs rallied once again, charging from their own 22 to the Cleveland 24, then scoring on third and 15 after being backed up by a false start, with Houghtaling hitting Cueto from the 29 to make it 26-20.

Artesia attempted the conversion pass, but it was batted away.

They had a shot to go up by two scores, however, when the Crush forced a Storm three and out, but after an incomplete pass, a sack, and a pass for no gain, Artesia opted to try the punt fake that had paid off for them in the opening quarter. This time, however, Cleveland was ready and waiting, dropping Rodriguez at the line of scrimmage, then scoring on two plays, the last a 25-yard run by Luke Wysong.

The ‘Dogs kicked off the fourth quarter driving, achieving a first down at the Storm 33, but an incomplete pass, a false start, and a run for a loss were followed by two more misses to put the ball back in Cleveland’s hands at their own 40, and the Storm would score on a oneyard run by Colten Madison with 7:10 to go in the game.

Down by a single touchdown, 33-26, with plenty of time on the clock, the Bulldogs were in solid position to make another run at the Storm. But with the energy level having dropped, they were forced to punt on three plays from their own seven. Cleveland proceeded to return the ball to the Artesia 21, scoring on one shot – a pass from Davison to Lewis – to go up 40-26 with 5:13 remaining.

Another turnover on downs by Artesia was followed by the Storm’s seventh and final touchdown of the night, a three-yard run by Lewis that made it 47-26.

The ‘Dogs didn’t lie down, quickly working their way from their own 40 to the end zone on six plays, the last a 15-yard toss from Houghtaling to Williams, but down by 14 with 27 seconds left, time was not on their side. Artesia attempted the onside kick, which was recovered by the Storm, and Cleveland was able to run out the clock on the 47-33 win.

Artesia finished with 438 total yards of offense on the night to Cleveland’s 499, outpassing the Storm 363-189 but being outrushed 75-310. The Storm flipped the switch on their offense from the first half to the second, throwing for 168 yards compared to 82 yards rushing in the opening quarters, then outrunning their air game 228-21 in the second half.

Houghtaling was 27 of 46 on the night for 363 yards and three touchdowns, with McDonald (9-136), Rodriguez (6-96) and Cueto (8-73) leading the receiving corps. Williams finished 6-37 rushing with a score. For the Storm, Davison was 10 of 16 for 189 yards and two touchdowns, while Lewis legged out 199 yards on 21 carries.

Artesia will now prepare to host Lovington in their 2019 Homecoming bout Friday at Bulldog Bowl.

The Class 4A Wildcats are currently 4-1 on the year with wins over Chaparral (53-0), Capital (42-26), Hobbs (26-0) and Alamogordo (29-21) and a loss to Roswell High (76-54).