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Sunday, May 19, 2024

AHS Homecoming 2023: ‘Dogs vs. ‘Cats

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With Friday’s forecast calling for temperatures near 100 degrees, one thing fans at Bulldog Bowl for the 2023 Homecoming Game won’t be experiencing is football weather.

But all the other feelings will be there.

The fun and warmth of reconnecting with classmates for the first time in days for some, months for others, and years for others still. The excitement of watching the parade make its way down Main Street, children cheering from elaborately decorated floats, candy flying, and Homecoming royalty waving to the crowds. The nostalgic taste of Yeso Elementary School’s annual enchilada supper.

Then there’s the one where you walk into Artesia’s incomparable stadium on a late-September evening to the sight of the Friday night lights and, the sounds of the Pride of the Pecos Valley drum corps and the tinkle of bells on Homecoming mums, the smell of popcorn wafting from the concession stand, and the anticipation of the big game.

No one does Homecoming like Artesia. And no one does football like the Bulldogs.

That latter fact was punctuated last week when the boys in orange sent shockwaves through the state by besting Class 6A — and all-classification — top-ranked Cleveland 36-34 at the Bowl. It was a thrilling win, Artesia’s first in seven tries against the Storm, and an historic night for the program.

But come Monday, it was set aside, focus turning instead to the Class 4A third-ranked Lovington Wildcats. While competing in different classifications has cooled a rivalry that dates back to 1932, one thing remains perennially true: The ‘Cats would love nothing more than to be a scratch on the ‘Dogs’ record.

“So far it’s been a good week,” head coach Jeremy Maupin said Wednesday. “The main thing is, we’re just trying to make sure we don’t hold onto last week and are moving on from that. Our goal wasn’t just to beat Cleveland, it’s to get better each week, so that’s been our message.”

Lovington bounded out to a 15-6 lead over Artesia one minute into the second quarter last season in Wildcat Country before the ‘Dogs righted the ship en route to a 53-15 win. The year before, the ‘Cats had very nearly played spoiler on Homecoming Night at the Bowl, with the Bulldogs coming out on top of a 69-58 offensive shootout.

The Wildcats return just two skill players who made the stat book in 2022 following the graduation of quarterback Ashton Aranda, who did the bulk of their damage. Junior running back Camon Ochoa had five carries for 15 yards in that game and one catch for three, while senior slot Cesar Gonzalez was 5-28 receiving.

“[Ochoa] and [WR] Demarcus Thompson, those are their two best guys out on the field,” Maupin said. “Then they’re at safety and defensive end, too. They’re pretty creative about how they get those guys the ball and what they try to do with them.

“Their quarterback is pretty good. He throws the ball well, and they’re definitely more of a passing team than they are a running team.”

QB Wyatt Gomez has thus far this season completed 101 of his 178 attempts for 1,467 yards, 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Ochoa has compiled 394 yards rushing on 53 carries, and Thompson is 24-546 receiving with seven TDs and Gonzalez 32-469 with eight touchdowns.

“I think they’re hungry,” said Maupin. “They want to win this game, so we need to make sure we show up and play well.”

That will mean a continuation of the sort of focus the ‘Dogs devoted to the Storm last week and a minimization of any distractions. But should Artesia manage its time on the field wisely and continue to improve at the rate they’ve been going thus far, chances are good it will be a happy Homecoming for all involved.

“Last year, their game plan was to hold the ball for as long as possible and really keep our offense off the field, and I don’t see that changing a whole lot,” Maupin said. “So we’ll need to be ready to deal with that and then just, again, make sure we’re focused and ready to go.”

Brienne Green
Daily Press Editor

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