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Friday, June 14, 2024

‘Dogs ready to head south for Eddy County War

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There are some places you just can’t wait to visit. Ralph Bowyer Stadium. Goddard High School’s gymnasium. Alcatraz.

Sarcasm aside, every Artesia fan can think of a few venues that have been notorious for lukewarm welcomes over the years, and Carlsbad High School’s football field — with its designated home seating in the visitors’ stands and halftime vetoes of the other schools’ marching bands — is one of them.

To be honest, those subtle little jabs can often enhance the spirit of competition, and that’s undoubtedly the case when the competition in question is one as old and time-honored as the Eddy County War. So if you like that rivalry atmosphere, get ready to love it Friday, because you’re not going to have anywhere to park, either!

More about that in the box below.

The important thing — the only one that’s going to matter to the Bulldogs and the Cavemen come 7 p.m. Friday — is that football is back. For two cities that live for starting their autumn weekends under a set of stadium lights, that’s welcome news indeed.

The Bulldogs head into this year’s meeting as the defending champions of Class 5A, confident but not overly so, a group with a goal in mind and a mind to achieve it.

As head coach Jeremy Maupin notes in the preseason article in Section C of today’s edition, the 2023 edition of Artesia High School football is the sort of group every coach hopes for. There’s no attitude, no drama, and no thoughts of resting on their laurels. They just want to get on the grid and have some fun.

Class 6A Carlsbad, meanwhile, headed into the 2022 playoffs as the No. 10 seed and made a particularly painful exit from the opening round, falling to seventh-ranked Farmington by a single point, 34-33. They’ll be under the direction of a new head coach Friday, and that generally means the key will lie in discovering the unknowns.

“Cale Sanders was their offensive coordinator last year,” Maupin said Tuesday. “He’s a Goddard guy, played for them and went to Eastern, and I think, with him having been calling the shots last year offensively, there will be a lot of similarities this year on that side of the ball.

“There also seem to be a lot of similarities with the defense on film, so part of me thinks they might come out in a completely different defense than what they’ve been practicing just to mess with us a little bit. But for what we know right now, they’re a 3-4 defense, four guys deep, and they really try to stay on top of routes and not give anything up vertically.”

Under center for the Cavemen will be 5’10”, 165-pound junior Kason Perez, with returning senior running back Ulysses Mendoza — who carried the ball six times for 33 yards against the Bulldogs in 2022 — joining him in the backfield.

The boys in blue came up for air just once in last year’s meeting at Bulldog Bowl, racking up 361 of their 379 total yards of offense on the ground.

“They did do seven-on-sevens all summer, and we know they have the ability to pass,” Maupin said. “We saw them. And we played them at pretty much every passing tournament we went to this summer. But as far as what they’re going to do in the game, we feel like they’re still a run-first team.”

The ‘Dogs, meanwhile, return their offensive backfield in the person of senior quarterback Nye Estrada — who threw for 218 yards and three touchdowns against Carlsbad last season, completing 17 of his 24 passes — and senior RB Jesse Leroch.

Center Omar Salais returns to anchor the line, and there’s talent and speed for days between wide-outs Matt Saiz and Juan Diego Duran and slots Ethan Conn, Diego Lopez and Izac Cazares. On the other side of the ball, the Orange Crush welcomes back All-State DBs David Jesse Armendariz and David Hammond and All-State linebacker Diego Wesson, who’ll be joined this season both alongside and in front by a solid group of athletes who saw quality playing time in 2022.

What they’ll be looking for is simple: A solid start, four quality quarters of football, and perhaps a locker room.

Yes, not even the ‘Dogs themselves were immune to this year’s difficulties at Ralph Bowyer, which are being caused by heavy construction on the Carlsbad High School campus. The Artesia boys were essentially ousted from the field house and had to request porta-potties to ensure there’d be no mad dashes to the concession area.

“We’re trying not to let it be a factor,” said Maupin. “We’ll probably do something a little different with how we warm up and how we show up, make it a little bit fun on our end. We definitely don’t want to let that stuff be a distraction. We want to turn it into our gain, and that’s kind of been our message this week: have some fun, start fast, and just be more prepared this year.”

The boys in orange were by no means raring to go in 2021, struggling through a 31-6 loss to the Cavemen in their last trip south. They technically didn’t put their best foot forward last year at the Bowl, either, needing a clutch 80-yard kick return in the final seconds by Saiz to secure a 30-27 win.

With Artesia’s motto this year being “Relentless Pursuit,” Maupin hopes to see his squad waste no time identifying what they want and going after it with all they’ve got.

“We haven’t played very well in this first game the last two years,” said Maupin. “Two years ago, we were throwing interceptions, and I think we were just overly confident. Last year, it was kind of just like ‘let’s try our best.’

“This year, though, I think there’s a little more of a feeling of ‘Hey, we’re pretty good, so let’s go get after these guys.’ And that’s what we’d like to see. Let’s take the fight to them.”

Bulldog fans should note that Carlsbad fans have been urged to carpool to Friday’s game due to limited on-site parking. The City of Carlsbad has announced that fans wil not be allowed to walk from one side of the stadium to the other both before and after the game, and Caveman fans are being encouraged to find seats on the home side. No fans will be allowed on the track or the field. Overflow parking is being listed as available near the Carlsbad High School cafeteria and gym.

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