In a premier high school football matchup that many thought would be much closer and a preview of the postseason, the Artesia Bulldogs dominated every facet of the game Friday night, beating Roswell 42-7 at the Wool Bowl.
The Bulldogs did not punt the ball all night, and jumped out to a 35-0 lead at halftime, a lead from which the Coyotes could not recover in their first district game of the season.
“We got our butt whooped,” said Roswell head coach Jeff Lynn. “We’re not going to make excuses. Give their coaches and their kids a lot of credit, they outplayed us and out-coached us. We’ll regroup and go back to work Monday and get better.”
The win puts Artesia in the driver’s seat for the district playoffs, and was a humbling loss for the Coyotes at home, who fell to 5-3 on the season, while Artesia improved to 6-2. Artesia entered the game ranked No. 1 in District 4-5A, while Roswell was ranked No. 3.
Artesia head coach Rex Henderson said he was among those who thought Friday’s game would be much closer.
“This is big,” Henderson said. “Roswell is one of the best teams in our class. They’re right up there. Some things go differently, they’re right in there with Belen in that game. They beat Los Lunas and put it on Farmington pretty good. They’re one of the best teams in our class. I think it’s a really big win for us, but the other part is there’s still a lot more football to be played.”
Both head coaches said a costly early penalty on the Coyotes, when the Bulldogs faced a fourth a 2 on their first drive, set the game’s tone.
“That was just kind of the way we played,” Lynn said. “We didn’t play real smart. If you get them into fourth and 2 and we jump offsides, and we work that every day. I think it might of kind of defined the whole night for us.”
“I really thought it would be a battle,” Henderson said. “They’ve got a great program. Coach Lynn has done a great job. I think he really does a great job with this program. I really thought that it would be a battle and I’m really proud of our kids for the way they got after it from the start of the game.”
The Bulldogs took the opening kickoff and appeared to stall on their opening drive, but Roswell was called for offsides on fourth and 2 near midfield.
Later in the drive, Artesia senior running back Robert Fernandez ran a draw play up the middle for a 20-yard gain, but Fernandez coughed up the football at the end of the run, and the Coyotes recovered.
After taking over at their own 14-yard line, the Bulldogs stopped the Coyotes, who punted after a three-and-out.
Artesia senior quarterback Taylor Null then displayed a new passing attack not seen at the Wool Bowl this year, and intelligence in the pocket, throwing the ball out of bounds on a first and goal at the Coyote 6 when no receivers were open. After a 12-yard loss on a sack, Null threw to junior J.R. Bustamante on a fade route in the end zone, to make it 6-0 Artesia with 5:44 left in the first quarter. The extra point kick was low, but good enough, to make it 7-0.
Things soon got worse for the Coyotes, when senior running back Gabe Najar fumbled as Roswell was driving into Artesia territory.
On third and short near midfield, Null threw deep to Bustamante in single coverage near the 5-yard line. Bustamante brought down the rock and back-peddled over the Coyote defender into the end zone to make it 13-0 Artesia with 4:15 left in the first quarter. The successful extra point made it 14-0.
The Coyotes put together a drive thanks to some hard-earned first downs by Najar, but were again set back by a penalty and punted.
Artesia took over at the Bulldog 6-yard line and marched the length of the field on the arm of Null.
On first and 10 at the Roswell 15-yard line, Null threw to Bustamante in the end zone, for Bustamante’s third receiving touchdown of the night. The extra point made it 21-0 Artesia with 10:18 left in the second quarter.
The Coyotes began their next drive at their own 7-yard line, and again the hard rushing of Najar helped move the sticks.
On third and long, Roswell senior quarterback Michael Ponce threw to sophomore Mariano Salinas, but the ball floated in the air and was brought in by the Artesia defender for an interception.
Three plays later, Null found junior wide receiver A.J. Estrada wide open over the middle, without a defender within 15 yards of him, as Estrada waltzed into the end zone on a 50-yard touchdown catch that made it 28-0 after the extra point kick, with 5:47 left in the second quarter.
Roswell again punted on their next possession, as Artesia continued its balanced running and passing attack.
After a 30-yard run by junior Jagger Donaghe, Null connected with Donaghe along the left sideline for a 24-yard touchdown pass to make 34-0. The extra point made it 35-0 as the clearly dejected Coyotes headed into the locker room down big at halftime.
“We came out and stopped the running game and we went down and scored,” Henderson said. “They stopped us on the first drive, and then we went back and scored the next two pretty quick. That’s tough on kids. They did a good job of regrouping them at halftime and were able to come back and execute their offense well the second half.”
The second half went much quicker with the continuous clock as a result of Artesia’s 35-point lead.
Roswell switched quarterbacks to begin the third quarter, with senior Daniel Sosa taking snaps instead of Ponce.
“We’ve done that the last two or three games,” Lynn said. “We probably should have got to that more in the first half. But give them credit, they outplayed us tonight. They out-coached us. They did a good job.”
Beginning at their own 27-yard line, the Coyotes put together their only scoring drive of the night. A couple of first downs each by Najar and Sosa, and a defensive pass interference call, put the Coyotes deep in Bulldog territory. On second and 3 at the Bulldog 3-yard line, Najar ran through the middle for the only Coyote touchdown of the night, capping a nearly 9-minute drive. The successful extra point kick made it 35-7 Artesia late in the third quarter.
Artesia tacked on one last touchdown after Roswell unsuccessfully attempted an onside kick.
After taking over at their own 48-yard line, on the first play of the drive, Null threw over the middle to senior Tyler Greenwood, who outran his defender for a 52-yard touchdown reception that made it 41-7. The last extra point kick of the game made it 42-7 heading into the fourth quarter, when reserves played for both teams.
Najar chewed up the clock on Roswell’s ensuing possession, as the Coyotes again drove deep into Bulldog territory.
After a couple of costly penalties, Roswell faced a fourth and 17 at the Artesia 20-yard line.
Ponce, back behind center, threw into the end zone, but the pass was intercepted by Artesia senior defensive back Denver Williams to end the drive. Artesia ran out the clock on its last possession.
“I’m really pleased with the way that our guys came out and played,” Henderson said. “They started really well and had a big start, and that just carried through the whole game.”
Henderson said Null had another good outing leading the Bulldogs.
“Our quarterback just does a good job,” Henderson said. “He throws the ball where it needs to be and gets us in the right plays and all that. I’m really proud of him.”
Henderson said the game plan going into the game was to stop Najar, Roswell’s leading rusher.
“Our kids really were disappointed in kind of the way last year went and I think they wanted to do a better job really,” Henderson said. “They really had a great week of practice and really took it personal that they were going to do a good job stopping (Najar). Roswell has a great running game, great attack. You could see that in the second half, they came back and moved the ball well.”
Lynn said the Coyotes hope for a rematch against Artesia in the playoffs.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Lynn said.
Roswell hosts Lovington next week, while Artesia hosts Goddard.