Artesia boys overcome early challenge to top Wildcats by 28 points
When the first quarter ended with Artesia leading Deming by just a point, 15-14, one thing was clear: This week was going to be different.
A few things over the years have contributed to some games against the Wildcats that were a bit more exciting than most were anticipating. Firstly, that Deming was once a struggling squad is an impression that’s stuck around, aided by the fact that the Bulldogs more often than not end up defeating them soundly.
But as Artesia head coach Jeremy Maupin pointed out Saturday, the ‘Cats have made the playoffs for the past five consecutive seasons, reaching the semifinal round twice and the quarterfinals once.
Then there are the years when a match-up that holds more interest in the eyes of the state lies just ahead on the ‘Dogs’ schedule. Such is the case this year with next week’s showdown between Artesia and Cleveland, the top two teams in the state.
Even the slightest loss of focus against a program like Deming — that’s hungry to prove itself against a top-tier opponent — can prove detrimental, and the Bulldogs saw the effects at various points in Friday’s meeting between Class 5A’s No. 1 and No. 5 teams. But as a top-ranked team should, the boys in orange righted the ship and fired the cannons when it counted, ultimately heading home with a 28-point win and a 4-0 record in hand.
“I just felt like we were real lethargic when we got off the bus,” Maupin said following his team’s 54-26 victory. “Our warm-up was kind of just walking around, jogging around, so I challenged them before the game because I was worried we were going to come out a little flat. And that’s what we ended up doing.”
The Big Orange offense got off to a solid start, needing just three plays to score from near midfield. A 22-yard pass from senior quarterback Nye Estrada to Frankie Galindo took Artesia inside the Deming 35, and Estrada found Juan Diego Duran in the end zone from the 30 for the game’s first touchdown. A conversion run by Diego Lopez put the ‘Dogs up 8-0 just under a minute into the bout.
But Wildcat junior QB Ryan Alfaro and sophomore running back Isaac Martinez came out averaging just over five yards per carry through the early goings of Deming’s inaugural drive. And after breaking back-to-back runs of 22 and 30 yards, respectively, en route to the Artesia red zone, Alfaro would take it in from the two. The conversion run failed, however, leaving the score at 8-6.
The ‘Dogs wasted no time responding, showing off their own run game as they marched from the Wildcat 49 to the three and capping the series with a three-yard TD pass from Estrada to Galindo to make it 15-6. But the Alfaro-Martinez Show picked right up where it left off, with the former opening Deming’s second possession with a 55-yard gain before scoring from the three. This time, the conversion attempt — a pass from Alfaro to Martinez — was good, making it a one-point game, 15-14.
When Artesia’s first series of the second quarter ended in an interception at the Deming one-yard line, it was the wake-up call the Bulldogs needed. And from there, they got to work.
The Orange Crush got the ball rolling by tacking two more points to the ‘Dogs’ tally. On second and nine from the Wildcat two, Jesse Armendariz snagged Alfaro in the end zone and brought the QB down with an assist from Grant Johnson for the safety with 9:44 to go in the first half.
That put the ball back in the hands of the offense, as well, and following a Wildcat penalty on the kickoff that backed Deming up for the re-kick, Artesia had a short field to work with for their next three-play scoring drive. A pass from Estrada to Izac Cazares took the ‘Dogs from the 37 to the 25 and a toss to Ethan Conn from the 25 to the 13 before Galindo took over from there, darting 13 yard to paydirt. The conversion pass from Cazares to Jack Byers gave the Bulldogs some needed breathing room, 25-14.
The D then forced a three and out for the game’s first punt to set up Artesia’s fourth score, which capped a balanced 16-play, 75-yard push with a one-yard run by linebacker Diego Wesson out of the jumbo package to put the ‘Dogs up by 18, 32-14, with three minutes on the clock.
Alfaro completed his first pass of the night in Deming’s next series, but Armendariz made him pay on his third attempt, which was picked at the goal line and returned to the Bulldog 38. That became the Deming 47 following an unsportsmanlike flag on the ‘Cats, but with time running out on the half, the Bulldogs were unable to add to their total prior to the break, turning the ball over on downs.
The ‘Dogs had taken the momentum firmly in hand in the second quarter, but the Wildcats had a few more things to say in the second half.
On Deming’s first play from scrimmage to start the third, Alfaro slipped through the defense and was off to the races for an 80-yard score that brought the ‘Cats back within 12, 32-20. But with Galindo doing the bulk of the legwork, Artesia was back in the end zone 10 plays later after the junior barreled in from the 11.
He’d breach the goal line again 28 seconds later after Josiah Rodriguez recovered a Wildcat fumble on the kickoff, this time scoring from the nine to make it 47-20 Artesia with eight minutes to go in the third.
That quick turnaround plus Armendariz’s second pick of the game at the end of a long drive from their own 14 to the Bulldog 10 came as a heavy blow to Deming, and that would likely have been it for the ‘Cats scoring wise. But a pair of uncharacteristic fumbles — both on the first play from scrimmage — not only eliminated two offensive drives for Artesia but set the Wildcats up with a short field for their final TD of the night as well. Alfaro punched in his fourth score from the four — but had his conversion pass attempt intercepted by Rodriguez — to make it 47-26 with 7:08 remaining in the game.
The Crush would force a three and out following the second fumble, however, and the boys in orange had just enough time for one more trip to the end zone: a 22-yard pass from Estrada to Conn with 37 seconds left. Phillip Finley’s PAT — his fourth of four — rounded out the final, 54-26.
“I think our guys got their eyes too far ahead, and we lost focus on the team in front of us a little bit,” Maupin said. “And Deming came ready to play. Their quarterback and running back are really good, and they moved the ball well early.
“They came out and hit us in the mouth, then we responded really well in the second quarter, and then they hit us in the mouth again on the first play of the third quarter. But every time, we responded, so that was key. Like they say, it’s never as good or as bad as you think, and watching film, there was a lot of good.”
The Bulldogs finished with 448 total yards of offense to Deming’s 382. The ‘Dogs’ attack was once again well balanced, with 215 of their yards coming on the ground — 192 of those on 24 carries by Galindo alone — and 233 through the air. Estrada finished 24 of 38 for all 233 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception. The receiving corps was led by Conn (8-75), Galindo (3-45), Duran (2-38) and Cazares (4-36).
Alfaro and Martinez finished 19-211 and 19-112 rushing, respectively, with 57 passing yards added to their 325 rushing.
“Offensively, we had a pretty good day — almost 200 yards of rushing with Frankie, over 200 rushing yards total, and over 200 yards passing,” said Maupin. “I thought we moved the ball pretty much at will until the fumbling started.
“But the good thing is, it’s all fixable little mistakes. We played well overall, just when we had a breakdown, it always tended to be on third and eight. So we saw a lot to build on this morning watching film, but we were excited to come out with a win.”
And now and only now, the Bulldogs can turn their focus to Cleveland and what has become the most-anticipated Week-Five match-up in the state.
The three-time-defending Class 6A state champions will head to Bulldog Bowl this Friday with a record of 3-1, having opened with wins over Centennial (27-8) and La Cueva (27-7) before coming up one point short of Amarillo, Texas, Sept. 1, 28-27. The Storm topped Las Cruces High Friday at Lightning Bolt Stadium, 42-13.
Ranked No. 1 in their respective classes and No. 1 and 2 by MaxPreps in its cumulative class rankings, the Storm and Bulldogs offer plenty of inter-class intrigue as the 2023 season hits its midway point.
“I expect after our talks and conversations after the game last night and this morning in film that we’re going to have a good week,” Maupin said. “And if we do that, then we’ll give ourselves a chance to win Friday.”