On paper, the similarities were striking. But numbers do not a playoff victory make.
Nearly identical records. Senior quarterbacks with just over 3,100 yards on the season. Win streaks of 6-0. Artesia and Farmington seemed to have everything in common. In games like that, it comes down to execution. Who can do the most — first, fastest, and with the fewest amount of mistakes.
In the end, that turned out to be the boys in orange, whose 47-22 win in the Class 5A state semifinal in Farmington gives the program the chance to compete this week for its record 30th New Mexico football championship.
“We were really proud of the way we played today,” head coach Rex Henderson said following the contest. “When you’re playing a good football team at this level, you need people to step up and make plays, and I felt like we had that today.”
Starting at their own 16-yard line following the opening kick, the Scorpions quickly propelled themselves to the 43 on a pass from QB Isaiah Jaramillo to 6’5” target Jacob Brown. But Jaramillo was sacked on the next play by Eddie Pando, and after a short pass and a holding penalty, he let fly on third and 21 from the Scorps’ 33.
There, however, safety Denver Williams was lurking.
Williams’ third pick of the playoffs and first of two on the day versus Farmington set the Bulldogs up near midfield. And after launching a 31-yard pass into the hands of Chaney Hardt and the Scorpions’ red zone, Taylor Null sailed a 19-yarder over the Scorpion defense to a darting Tyler Greenwood for the game’s first score.
From there, the ‘Dogs did, as Henderson often stresses, what they needed to. They opened up a 20-point lead in the first quarter. They bent a little here and there, but they were nowhere near breaking, scoring to cap all but a trio of drives, forcing two more turnovers, sacking Jaramillo seven times for a combined loss of 43 yards, and ensuring Farmington started all of their drives from around their own 30 or further back.
“Not everything goes perfect when you have somebody talented and well-coached on the other side of the field, but our kids made the plays they needed to make in some critical spots,” Henderson said. “I thought getting started early with some stops and jumping out in front 20-0 really set the tone for the game.”
Artesia nearly had another turnover three plays into the Scorpions’ second drive, when a fumbled lateral was pounced upon by the Crush. But after much debate, the officials returned the ball to Farmington, who would ultimately punt it away.
On third and seven of the Bulldogs’ ensuing series, JR Bustamante delivered an acrobatic mid-air grab of a 37-yard Null pass, effectively setting up Artesia’s second TD, a six-yard toss from Null to Greenwood that made it 14-0 with 4:16 to go in the first.
A quick three-and-out gave the Big Orange offense just enough time to improve that score prior to the start of the second, as Jagger Donaghe barreled over the goal line from the eight. A failed conversion attempt left the score at 20-0.
The teams would trade turnovers on downs to start the second quarter, and with 4:37 to go in the half, Farmington was able to get on the board, converting on third and eight with a 32-yard touchdown pass from Jaramillo to Brown.
But with Robert Fernandez reeling off a 17-yard run and Bustamante laying out once again for a 25-yard snag on third and 17, the ‘Dogs were soon back in Scorp territory, completing the drive with a one-yard hop by Fernandez at the 54-second mark to set the halftime tally, 26-7.
Farmington threatened prior to the horn, with Jaramillo passing his way into Artesia territory, then legging out 21 yards on fourth and nine to reach the Bulldog 15. His final shot into the end zone, however, was nabbed by Williams.
Null went over 200 yards on the game to start the third quarter, sprinkling passes to Hardt, Bustamante, AJ Estrada and Donaghe before finding Greenwood from the 12 for what turned out to be a significant score.
While the Orange Crush would force another Scorpion TOD, the ‘Dogs were unable to capitalize, punting to set up Farmington’s second TD of the day, a 63-yard bomb from Jaramillo to Juan Medrano that made it 33-14.
Artesia brought the hammer down as the fourth quarter commenced, however. A four-yard touchdown pass from Null to Estrada was followed by an interception at midfield by mike linebacker Miguel Martinez. That, in turn, would give the Null-to-Greenwood Connection one final flight, this time from the Scorp 47.
With 10:26 to go at that point and the Bulldogs up by 33, Jaramillo gave way to fellow senior Dakota Halliburton, who passed and scrambled Farmington to the Artesia 16 before turning it over on downs. But after the ‘Dogs’ second string was forced to punt, Halliburton was able to post one final score for the Scorpions, a two-yarder to Medrano that rounded out the final, 47-22.
Farmington finished with 462 yards but just three touchdowns to show for it; the Crush was able to hold them to 184 in the first half, aided by additional sacks from Pando and Colin Flood amidst a pass rush that kept Jaramillo on his toes.
“I thought the pressure we were able to get on them defensively and our coverage downfield overall was really solid,” said Henderson. “That says a lot about our defensive staff and our defensive players, and the work that they’ve put in to get better in that area.
“They’ve come a long way over the course of the season, and that was really exciting to see. I thought we executed real well on both sides of the ball throughout the game.”
Null finished his afternoon 21 of 34 for 312 yards and five touchdowns, four of those to Greenwood (6-103) and one to Estrada (4-39). Bustamante and Hardt went 5-69 and 4-67 receiving respectively, while on the ground, Fernandez was 14-90 and Donaghe 9-35, both with a score.
Jaramillo was 17 of 36 for 293 yards, two TDs, and three picks passing, and 9-35 rushing.
With flags flying at rates generally reserved for Independence Day parades, the squads combined for 205 penalty yards on more than 20 whistles.
Their name atop the “owed” lists of both teams playing in Saturday’s other 5A semifinal, the Bulldogs (10-2) knew at the game’s conclusion Saturday they’d be hosting this year’s title tilt. A half-four later, they knew their opponent, as well: No. 2 Belen (12-0), who defeated No. 3 Roswell High 27-20 Saturday in Belen.
“They’ve certainly had a good season, and they’ve been looking at this team from the start as kind of a ‘team of destiny,’” Henderson said. “They were talking about the blue trophy back in the summer, so they definitely believe they belong at this point, and they’re not going to be intimidated by the atmosphere or the stage.
“We’re going to have to continue working on our execution, and then we’ll take a look at what else we need to do this week. But we’re real excited about the way our kids performed today, and we’re also really grateful that so many people made the trip up here to Farmington to watch this game. The kids all commented on it; they notice those things, and they appreciate it.”