Published: 3:00 pm, Thu. Nov. 21st, 2019
By BRIENNE GREEN Sports Editor It’s a safe assumption that no one saw Saturday coming. Likely not even the Los Lunas Tigers themselves, though – as the second-ranked team in Class 5A – they were certainly confident enough in their abilities.
What transpired in Los Lunas can really only be summed up with a simple “sometimes it’s just not your year.” Not when a 58-21 loss came with a scoreless second half, just 230 total yards of offense, and a 35-point mercyrule clock that began ticking in the third quarter.
For the better part of the first half Saturday, it didn’t look as though that’s where things were headed.
The Tigers did score to cap their inaugural drive, and with little resistance, marching from their own 39-yard line to the Artesia 11 on seven consecutive rushing plays split between four different backs. A seven-yard pass would bring about third and one from the four, and a theme would subsequently be established: 6’3″, 250-pound defensive end Bryce Santana would be carrying in shortyardage touchdowns. Period.
But the Bulldog offense responded despite the setbacks of a sack for a loss of 13 and a holding penalty, working their way from midfield to the Los Lunas 16, from which senior quarterback Clay Houghtaling would find Jacob Creighton on the edge of the end zone. Artesia wasn’t able to tie it up, however, due to a PAT miss, and the Tigers continued to lead, 7-6, with 4:13 to go in the first.
Another Los Lunas trek from their own 31 to a one-yard plunge by Santana would chew those remaining four minutes away and make it 15-6 after the successful conversion pass, but this time, the ‘Dogs had no answer, stalling in their own territory for a three-and-out punt as the second quarter began.
It took the Tigers just five plays this time to cover 80 yards, and they’d go up 22-6 on a sixyard Santana run.
The Bulldog offense began to challenge from there, pulling back within eight on a 56-yard catch-and-run from Houghtaling to Erik Cueto on Artesia’s second play from scrimmage, then following Los Lunas’ three-play scoring drive – which ended that time on a 41-yard pass from Kade Benavidez to Lorenzo Sosa – with a 23-yard pass-play TD from Houghtaling to Braxton McDonald to again stay within a score, 29-21.
But the Tigers simply weren’t being stopped. They wouldn’t be all day, scoring to cap off all eight of their complete offensive drives on the contest. And after Los Lunas made it 37-21 on a four-yard run from Santana with 1:09 to go, not only did Artesia turn the ball over on downs at midfield, they left just enough time on the clock for Benavidez to reel off two long passes to Derek Chavez, the latter for a 28-yard TD that turned what had been an eight-point game seconds before into a 44-21 halftime deficit.
The spark was essentially gone, and the boys in orange would not find it again, turning the ball over on downs to end both of their third-quarter possessions and punting away their lone opportunity of the fourth.
The Tigers needed just a pair of scores in the third to put the clock in motion – a nine-yard run from Donald Thomas and one final battering ram over the goal line by Santana from the two with 2:00 remaining in the quarter.
Following the Bulldogs’ fourth-quarter punt, Los Lunas proceeded to secure four first downs en route to first and goal at the Artesia five, and Benavidez would take a knee from there.
Houghtaling closed out his senior campaign 19 of 33 for 234 yards and three touchdowns, one apiece to McDonald (7-92), Cueto (4-76) and Creighton (1- 16). Junior Cord Cox made one appearance under center for an eight-yard pass. Artesia’s rushing total of negative-12 yards on the day, however, dropped the team’s total output to 230.
The Bulldogs closed out the 2019 season with an overall record of 6-6.
Benavidez, meanwhile, didn’t suffer an incompletion until his first attempt of the second half, going 13 of 15 overall for 269 yards and two scores. Sosa was 2-75 receiving, and Chavez and Cesar Ortega Meza finished 19-111 and 11-87 rushing respectively.
The Tigers advanced to the semifinal round with a 554-yard performance.
There, they’ll be squaring off at 1 p.m. Nov. 23 against Goddard at Wool Bowl. The third-ranked Rockets topped No. 6 Piedra Vista 20-10 Saturday. In the weekend’s other quarterfinals, it was No. 1 Roswell over No.
9 Alamogordo, 48-17, and No. 5 Deming edging No. 4 Farmington 16-14. The Coyotes and Wildcats will meet at 6 p.m.
Nov. 22 in Roswell.