The Bulldogs were grateful to see grey skies over the practice field Tuesday at Bulldog Bowl.
“It was a nice, overcast, kind of cooler practice,” head coach Jeremy Maupin said Wednesday. “It was nice.”
It’s been unseasonably warm this year, with mid-October temperatures still creeping toward the 90s. But a cloudy day here and there and some chilly nights are always a good indicator of change. And for the ‘Dogs, that means the start of the second season.
They couldn’t be more ready.
“Honestly, even getting ready for Santa Teresa, we were practicing a little bit for Roswell,” said Maupin.”And it’s been hard because our defense knows what plays we’re going to run now as we’re running them. They’re stopping plays they weren’t two weeks ago because we’ve been running the same plays against them for three weeks now.”
Aside from being slightly annoying for the offense, the open week is also a time to reflect. To say it’s been a good season so far would be a bit of an understatement. The boys in orange spent the first two weeks of their 2023 campaign manhandling Class 6A opponents and ended the game early by way of the 50-point mercy rule in their first meeting with a fellow 5A squad.
They performed well on the road against an always-scrappy Deming team and shook up the state with their 36-34 victory over 6A top-ranked Cleveland Sept. 15 at the Bowl. They shut out Lovington for Homecoming and shut down Santa Teresa at the half in their Season One finale.
They’re businesslike, these Bulldogs, and it’s a team trait that’s been serving them well. They don’t rattle easily, and they don’t see the point in being intimidated. As Maupin says, they just go out and play football. And that becomes even more fun when you get down to the games that count.
“We’re happy with our guys and the way they’re practicing and focusing right now,” Maupin said. “And we’re excited for the opportunity to play a good team this week.”
Roswell High has had a good season as well, and it’s set the stage for a match-up that’s drawing a lot of attention. Class 5A’s No. 1 and No. 2 teams, both unbeaten, both with similar outcomes against in-common opponents.
The Coyotes opened with a 45-18 win over Lovington, followed with a 58-6 victory over Santa Fe High in their first home game, and took down Hobbs on the road, 34-6. Los Lunas (34-7), Carlsbad (41-7) and Clovis (49-0) also fell, and Roswell headed into its own open week Sept. 29 with a 44-0 shutout of last year’s state runner-up Piedra Vista in Farmington.
Undoubtedly, the boys in red are out for a little revenge. After falling to Artesia by a final of 46-28 in last year’s district opener at the Bowl, Roswell expected to see the ‘Dogs again in the state game, but that path was blocked by Piedra Vista, who bested the Coyotes in the semifinal round.
Roswell returns several athletes from that 2022 squad who likely have bad tastes in their mouths, including senior quarterback Manny Fuentez, who was 23 of 28 for 270 yards and four touchdowns against Artesia in the teams’ last meeting; senior running back Bryce Sanchez, who went 13-49 in 2022; and slot back Josh Estrada, who was 7-81 receiving.
“They’re a good team,” Maupin said. “They’re a very senior-heavy team. Coach [Jeff] Lynn has two of his sons starting on the defensive line, and they’re both really good. Xai Carrasco is back at safety, and he’s a really good football player. And they have two corners that are really good. Both started against us all summer, one against us last year.
“Offensively, their quarterback is back, and he’s a good athlete. Their running back is a three-year starter, and he’s a big kid who’s going to get you two or three yards every run but also has the ability to bust some long ones at times. Then they have a speedy little slot [Estrada] who’s probably their fastest guy, and they try to get the ball to him a lot. And then they just have a solid group around all that.”
The Coyotes started the year confident and haven’t let that self-assurance slip.
“Their coach said at one point, ‘We don’t have any weaknesses,’ and you look around and they’re pretty potent at most positions,” said Maupin.
But potency is something the Bulldogs also have plenty of. The team has racked up 2,829 yards of offense thus far — a nicely balanced 1,630 passing and 1,199 rushing — while outscoring their first seven opponents 335-73.
Senior quarterback Nye Estrada has amassed 1,402 air yards and 16 touchdowns thus far, with Frankie Galindo (86-818 with 17 TDs) and Ethan Conn (32-569 with eight touchdowns) leading in the rushing and receiving departments. The Orange Crush defense has been stifling to say the least while adding two touchdowns and four safeties of their own, and the special teams unit has been highly effective with three TDs to their credit as well.
Perhaps the ‘Dogs’ greatest weapon, however, is calm in the face of attempted chaos. While the state is preparing to converage on Wool Bowl Friday for what most are billing as the be-all, end-all in 5A, Artesia is preparing for, quite simply, its first district game.
They know it’s a big one. But then so are they all.
“Everybody’s going to make this game out to be God’s gift to playing football, and we get it,” Maupin said. “But we’re telling our guys, ‘Hey, this is the first district game. We can’t put everything in this basket.’ People are already saying it’s a preview of the state game and all these things, but people said that last year, too, and that’s not what happened.
“So we just have to make sure we’re focused right now on beating Roswell. And then we’ll focus on Goddard and so on. And if we end up playing Roswell again down the road, we’ll get ready for them again another time. But now’s the time to focus on getting the job done in the district opener and not making that bigger than it is.”