Published: 12:05 am, Sun. Oct. 27th, 2019
One simple statistic can essentially sum up the Bulldog football team’s District 4-AAAAA loss to Goddard Friday at Bulldog Bowl: 508 rushing yards.
That’s how many the Rockets put up on a night that saw Artesia leading for the majority of the first half before falling victim to Goddard’s methodical, clockchewing offense in the second.
The ‘Dogs got the ball only twice in the final 24 minutes of play, scoring in the third and turning it over on downs in the fourth.
That meant just 98 yards of offense in the second half to the Rockets’ 237, with Goddard scoring on two out of three possessions to round out their 46-34 win.
And for the second time in as many weeks, the Bulldogs were left on the short end of the stick in a matchup they were capable of winning – just minus the effects of costly mistakes in all phases of the game.
“I thought we battled real hard last night,” head coach Rex Henderson said Saturday. “I’m real proud of our kids. We’ve just got to find a way to win.
“We’re at that point where I think we’re doing some things really well, we’re competing hard, but at some point, we have to start making the plays that get things to go our way and that get you in position to win a close game.”
As was the case last week against Roswell High, things got off to a promising start for the ‘Dogs.
Smoothly enough, Artesia was able to move the ball from their own 21-yard line to midfield on six plays before senior quarterback Clay Houghtaling found Johntae Rodriguez streaking toward the middle and sent the ball between a pair of Rocket defenders for a 51-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
And after the defense forced a Goddard three-and-out, the offense would strike again, converting on third and long with an eight-yard run by Houghtaling before sending Nathan Barrera over the goal line from the one to make it 14-0 with 5:33 to go in the first.
From there, however, the Rockets’ run game settled in, and the ‘Dogs had no answer for it.
Breaking off gains of 25, 14 and 23 yards en route to a first and goal at the Artesia eight, the Rockets got on the board from there with a scamper by Sammy Zaragoza, and after Artesia was forced to punt from midfield, Goddard carried its next scoring drive over into the second quarter.
The 12-play, 99-yard march culminated in a 46-yard run by Zaragoza to tie the game at 14- all following quarterback Robert Aragon’s conversion run.
From that point, the Rockets would score to cap all but one of their final five drives of the night, with Aragon carrying in the conversion every time.
The Bulldogs were able to continuously move back in front by answering Goddard’s next two TDs, starting with an 18- yard toss from Houghtaling to Braxton McDonald that made it 21-14. The Rockets came back with a six-play, 68-yard drive that ended in a four-yard plunge by Aragon, but after a big kick return by McDonald, Artesia needed just one play to respond:
a 17-yard pass into the end zone from Houghtaling to Rodriguez, who made the acrobatic grab to put the ‘Dogs back up, 28-22 with 1:24 left in the half.
Despite starting from their own 16-yard line, however, then being bumped back to the eight on a holding call, runs of 16 and 19 yards by Aragon took the Rockets near midfield, and a 57- yard pass from the Goddard QB to a wide-open Josh Hernandez allowed the boys in blue to secure the halftime lead, 30-28, at the 25-second mark.
The Rockets first series of the second half munched nearly half of the third-quarter clock, ending in a 20-yard touchdown run by Aragon, and Artesia lost more precious minutes by fumbling the ensuing kick return.
Although Goddard would punt away their next possession from their own 15, the third quarter was down to its final two minutes and 49 seconds by the time the ‘Dogs logged their first score of the second half on a 43- yard pass from Houghtaling to McDonald.
Down by just four at that point, 38-34, the task was by no means insurmountable. But after the Rockets opened the fourth quarter with a four-yard TD run by Aragon, a four-minute, 10- play drive by Artesia ended in a turnover on downs, and the Rockets were able to secure the first downs needed to dominate the final eight minutes, hitting second and goal at the Artesia eight before taking a knee.
“We haven’t been playing bad the last two weeks, we just haven’t been making those plays that get the momentum going in your direction,” Henderson said. “We get a big kick return and end up fumbling, we force a fumble and it goes right back to one of their players, dropped passes, missed tackles… those little things add up.
“It’s frustrating to have to keep learning these lessons, but as we keep going, I think our guys are going to finally start to see the payoff for all the work they’ve put in and the things they’ve done. They’re playing really hard – you can’t take that away from them. They’re doing the things we ask them to do.
They just came up a little bit short in this one.”
Houghtaling finished 17 of 24 for 317 passing yards and four touchdowns on the night, with McDonald hauling in six passes for 155 yards and two scores and Rodriguez four for 102 yards and two touchdowns.
With limited rushing yards on the night, Artesia closed out their offensive performance with 356 yards to the Rockets’ 587.
Aragon took to the air just five times, completing four of those attempts for 79 yards, and he legged out 254 yards and three touchdowns on a whopping 32 carries for Goddard. Zaragoza finished 17-173 with two scores.
With the loss, Artesia drops to 5-4 on the season, 0-2 in D4 play, as they prepare to close out their 2019 pre-playoff campaign against Alamogordo Friday at Bulldog Bowl. The Tigers also stand at 0-2 in the district with a 40-10 loss to Goddard and 42-3 defeat Friday at the hands of Roswell.
“We just need to see continued progress this week,” said Henderson. “We need to come out and do some things well heading into the playoff. I don’t know that there’s anything specific we’re going to focus on; we’ll mainly be looking at overall consistency of execution and putting it all together.
“I don’t know that we’ve put together a complete game to this point in the year. So we’re going to be working to do that – to just have a good game and finish off the regular season on a really solid, positive note.”