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Monday, May 20, 2024

‘Dogs ready to host Piedra Vista for Semifinal Saturday

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There’s no place quite like Bulldog Bowl.

Anyone who watched last week’s Texas bi-district playoff between Andrews and El Paso Austin heard the praise heaped upon Artesia’s venerable stadium by broadcast announcers and fans alike. As is the case with anything that’s a part of day-to-day life, it’s forgiveable to sometimes forget just how special it really is.

Sometimes, seeing it empty is a palpable reminder — the sheer magnitude of the facility hits home when there’s a hush over it. There’s a sense of anticipation in the air, as if it’s eagerly awaiting the sights, sounds and smells of a playoff Saturday: autumn and popcorn on the breeze, orange-clad fans staking their claims in the bleachers, the drum cadences of the Pride of the Pecos Valley.

Nothing rivals being present when the Bulldogs tear through their banner and down the Victory Lane into the Dogpile on those weighty days when every game matters more than the last.

And in those rare years when the heroes of the day have the opportunity to compete in every round of the playoffs at their home stomping grounds, it becomes more special still.

Part I, in which the Bulldogs powered through seventh-ranked Los Alamos in the quarterfinal round, is in the books. Now comes Part II, in which they look to do the same in a rematch of last year’s title game against No. 3 Piedra Vista.

“I think our guys have been pretty focused,” head coach Jeremy Maupin said Wednesday from the Bowl. “We’ve had good practices this week, a good film session Monday; so far, so good.”

The rematch aspect of Saturday’s semifinal bout at the Bowl is only present in the technical sense. Only a scant handful, if that, of starters remain from that Panther squad.

“They’re a much different team than we played last year,” said Maupin. “I think there’s only one starter back on defense and about the same on offense; maybe O-line, D-line, but they’re young. They’ve got a lot of sophomores competing, but they’re a solid team.”

Those underclassmen had a baptism by fire to kick off their 2023 campaign. Piedra Vista dropped its season opener to Farmington, 48-7, then saw a four-game losing streak form following defeats at the hands of Sandia (16-0), Durango, Colo. (49-14) and Eldorado (41-19).

The squad logged its first win Sept. 15 against Goddard at Wool Bowl, 21-7, then added another over Cibola the following week, 41-7. A run-in with Roswell High in their final regular-season outing in Farmington didn’t go well, as the Coyotes shut out the Panthers 44-0.

But PV made a clean run through District 1/5-AAAAA, topping Miyamura 52-16, Highland 52-18 and Belen 49-14. They subsequently entered the playoffs at No. 3 and dispatched sixth-ranked Valley in last week’s quarterfinal round, 30-6.

Following a scoreless first quarter in that contest, the Panthers racked up 21 points prior to the half. They led the Vikings 28-6 going into the fourth and notched a safety there to round out the final.

“I think they’re a team that’s just gotten better every week,” Maupin said. “Watching all their film, you can see the progression for sure. They’re definitely a run team — about 70% run. Typically, they’ll run, run, and then third down spread pass, if they have it. Defensively, they’re a solid group. They play in a 3-4 with a four-high shell, so they try to keep things underneath.

“Coach [Jared] Howell likes to run a lot of trick plays on offense, and they kick onside like 30% of the time. They’re going to try to give themselves the opportunity to win, hold onto the ball, try to have long, sustained drives. So we just have to try to get out in front of them early and force them to do some things they don’t want to do to try to get back into the game.”

The Bulldogs will be looking to ride the momentum of a 57-14 win over Los Alamos last week that saw the team shaking off a bit of bye-week rust en route to the decisive victory. They’re in full playoff mode now and have been working hard to prepare for whatever might present itself Saturday.

“Their quarterback went out last game and didn’t come back in, so who’s going to play there is kind of a question mark going into Saturday,” said Maupin. “They also had a kid get ejected last week, so there may be some changes with some of their key guys. Between that and the trick plays, things like that, we’re just making sure our guys are ready for anything.”

That’s part of the fun of these November Saturdays against unfamiliar opponents in the most familiar of confines.

“The guys are excited about playing in the semifinals,” Maupin said. “Getting to play at home again, getting ready to go into the holidays — there’s just a lot of excitement.

“Our goal is still in reach, and we’re just trying to make sure we finish out this week and give ourselves a chance to play in the championship next weekend. So the message is just to keep trusting and believing. We’ve accepted the motto ‘hold the rope’ during the playoffs. Do your job; you don’t have to do anybody else’s, we just need everybody to know their role and know how valuable that role is in what we’re trying to do. And I think they’re doing that, and they’re ready to go.”

Brienne Green
Daily Press Editor

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