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Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Tough ‘N Tenacious: ‘Dogs battle from behind to best Hobbs

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Justin Houghtaling stretches the ball over the goal line for the Bulldogs’ final touchdown of the game Friday at Bulldog Bowl. (Brienne Green - Daily Press)
Justin Houghtaling stretches the ball over the goal line for the Bulldogs’ final touchdown of the game Friday at Bulldog Bowl. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

There’s already something about a home opener at Bulldog Bowl. Add in a longtime rivalry and an opponent riding back-to-back wins over Artesia, and the result is a packed house, electricity in the air, and two teams ready to test their limits.

Through three quarters, the slugfest the state was expecting following Hobbs’ near miss against Mayfield last week was in full effect.

The ‘Dogs overcame a 14-12 halftime deficit to take the lead late in the third, and the two squads traded touchdowns in the final seconds of the quarter to make it a one-score affair going into the final 12 minutes. The fourth quarter began with the Eagles driving to a first-and-goal at the Artesia seven-yard line, but after a holding penalty bumped them back to the 15, the Orange Crush defense rose to the occasion.

The scourge of two weeks’ worth of quarterbacks, junior lineman Codey Scott, planted Hobbs’ Isaac Amaya for a loss of four on third down, and linebacker Grady Frost broke up a pass on fourth to force the turnover on downs.

Bulldog senior QB Justin Houghtaling went quickly to work, firing passes of 15 and 12 yards respectively to Daniel Leon and Darius Ramirez, then following 14 rushing yards by Isaiah Weideman with a 15-yard toss to Kaymann Elston to reach first-and-10 at the Hobbs 32. A 13-yard scamper by Weideman took the ‘Dogs to first-and-goal at the eight, but following a trio of incomplete passes, Artesia opted for a field goal, which Tanner Harris delivered from 26 yards out to make it 31-21 with 4:57 left to play.

“We need a big stop now, boys!” one defensive player called out to his teammates as the squads lined up for kickoff, but the special forces elected to save them the trouble. The kick tumbled out of the hands of Hobbs’ Aaron Compton, and Frost was there to pounce on it to hand the offense a start at the Eagle 19, and they wouldn’t squander it.

Houghtaling was sacked on second down to bring up third-and-17 at the 26, but following an 11-yard pass to Chaz Matthews, the senior connected with Weideman on fourth down for a clutch 13-yard catch-and-run. Houghtaling would call his own number from the one a play later to effectively put the game on ice, 38-21, with 2:32 on the clock.

Amaya doggedly led the Eagles upfield, capping off a 67-yard drive with a one-yard TD pass to Cason Clay to make it 38-28, but with just 28 seconds to go in the two-possession bout, an onside kick was a must. David Ortega’s attempt was a line drive straight into the arms of Ramirez, who knelt as Hobbs fans began taking to the stairs en masse.

“Last night’s game was the kind of game you really like to have this time of year: a good opponent in a game where we had to make some big plays in all three phases,” Artesia head coach Cooper Henderson said Saturday. “We were pleased with the outcome, but at the same time, we know we’ve got plenty of areas to work on and improve to become a better football team.”

The ‘Dogs’ first offensive series of the night ended in an interception by Eagle corner Chipper Childers, but as they did at several key moments in the game, the Crush stepped in to prevent any cost.

Hobbs was forced to punt from their own 39, and Artesia would get on the board in a big way via a 46-yard pass from Houghtaling to Clay Donaghe with 3:58 to go in the first. The conversion attempt was dropped, however, to keep the score at 6-0.

The Eagles were able to answer before quarter’s end, with Amaya and running back Jeremy Padilla trading rushing duties en route to a 15-yard touchdown pass from the former to Compton with 1:02 on the clock. Ortega’s PAT made it 7-6 Hobbs.

A fumble quickly returned the ball to the boys in gold in Artesia territory, but Carlos Carrasco would return the favor as the second quarter commenced, picking an Amaya pass at the Bulldog 15. Artesia was forced to punt near midfield, however, and the Eagles would pad their lead, 14-6, on a clock-chewing, 93-yard drive that ended in a four-yard run by Compton.

With big passes to Ethan Duff, Daniel Hernandez and Matthews and a 10-yard run of his own, Houghtaling would drive the offense to a first down at the Hobbs 13 as the final seconds of the first half ticked away, and after an Elston carry to the one, the QB would plunge over the line to cut Artesia’s deficit to two, 14-12, at the half following another failed conversion.

A fumble recovery of an onside kick to start the second half by Harris was negated by an Andre Gomez interception on the ‘Dogs’ first play from scrimmage. But in two of the biggest stands of the night, the Bulldog D forced a turnover on downs at midfield and an Eagle punt from their own 38 to fend Hobbs off until the offense could find its rhythm.

Artesia scored the go-ahead touchdown with 4:23 remaining in the third on a four-yard Houghtaling run, capped by a Weideman conversion run that made it 20-14. Hobbs moved back in front with just over a minute to go in the quarter on an eight-yard dash by Padilla, but it took the ‘Dogs just a single play to respond as Houghtaling found Matthews for a 54-yard catch-and-run that put Artesia up 28-21 going into the fourth following a second Weideman conversion.

They wouldn’t trail again.

“Defensively, we were really excited about the number of times we were able to hold them and make them turn the ball over on downs,” Henderson said. “We put a lot of pressure on the quarterback, had quite a few sacks, and really just played pretty consistently for this early in the year.

“Offensively, we were a little slow getting started, but at times we put together some real consistent drives and came up with some big plays that got things headed our direction in the second half. We also felt like our kicking game was a plus again last night. We had some particularly big plays getting two turnovers on kickoffs and putting a kickoff in the end zone and had pretty good field position on punting, as well as the field goal.”

The Bulldogs finished with 501 total yards of offense on the night, with Houghtaling passing for 405 of those and two touchdowns and rushing for 31 net yards and a trio of TDs. Weideman was 11-53 rushing and 4-47 receiving on the night, Matthews had six catches for 112 yards and a touchdown, and Elston was 4-74.

The Crush had a pair apiece of tackles for a loss and no gain and sacked Amaya five times on the night, with Scott accounting for four of those and 19 negative yards and Cooper Hall posting one for a loss of two.

The ‘Dogs were penalized seven times on the night for 41 yards and committed a trio of turnovers.

“We definitely need to work on reducing the number of penalties and turnovers,” Henderson said.

With the victory, the Bulldogs improve to 2-0 on the young season as they prepare to host Valencia Friday in the 2015 Homecoming game. The Jaguars are 1-1 on the year after topping West Mesa 22-14 Friday and falling to Alamogordo in Week One, 53-0.

“We’re real excited about our football team and really appreciate of our community,” said Henderson. “Between our community and Hobbs, we had a packed house, and that’s a lot of fun for a high-school football player and also a lot of fun just as far as the excitement of the game itself.

“We’re looking forward to hosting Valencia in the Homecoming game this week and trying to get better in those areas we still have a ways to go on.”

Brienne Green
Daily Press Editor

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