ARTESIA — As the Artesia Bulldogs get ready to hit the field in their quest for state title No. 30 today, a former Eddy County Commissioner remembers what it was like to be on one of the 29 teams that carried a state trophy off the field.
Royce Pearson is 60-years old, however, he remembers the 1974 football season well. He graduated the following spring and the first thing he remembers is Artesia dropped down to 3-A “due to student enrollment,” he said.
Today at 1 p.m. at the Bulldog Bowl Artesia (10-2) takes on Belen (12-0) for the 5-A title.
Getting back to yesteryear, Pearson said Artesia faced Portales, Lovington and Tucumcari in district play. He played left tackle on offense and he said none of the Bulldogs’ league foes could score.
Shutting out those teams, according to Pearson, “gave us a big head and a lot of confidence.”
Pearson said that attitude got the Bulldogs in trouble during the quarterfinals against Tularosa. He said the Wildcats had the upper hand at halftime with a 23-6 lead.
“The Artesia coaches were dumbfounded,” Pearson said.
He said the father of quarterback Greg White gave the team a pep talk during intermission. Whatever Allen White told the team worked.
“We went out in the second half and the defense pitched a shutout,” Pearson said. The Bulldogs were able to outscore the Wildcats and came away with a 24-23 win.
After that win the Bulldogs defeated Aztec in the semifinals and then beat Deming in the championship.
“We got after it,” Pearson said.
The Bulldogs of today defeated St. Pius (47-14) in the quarterfinals and last week in the semi’s Artesia took the sting out of the Farmington Scorpions (47-22).
The Bulldogs will be looking to senior Taylor Null to guide the offensive ship today. He has completed 216 passes for 3,453 yards and he’s also passed for 48 touchdowns.
Belen’s head coach is no stranger to playing for state titles. Greg Henington played under former Roswell High coach Jim Bradley during his second stint at Mayfield High School in Las Cruces.
Henington said the Trojans won two state titles during his playing days. From there he attended New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas and won a Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference championship.
He then returned to his alma mater and was the offensive coordinator under Jim Bradley’s son, Mike.
“In my time there we were in five state championships,” Henington said.
He is the son of late head coach Rex Henington, who coached at Las Cruces, Belen, Clovis and Hobbs. He led Las Cruces High to a state title in 1975.
The younger Henington admits he loves “huge games.”
“Some of the biggest were Las Cruces and Mayfield with 25,000 plus people (in attendance),” he said.
Henington has praise for Artesia on both sides of the football.
“They are the most disciplined team we will face all year, he said. “But we are excited to play them,” he added.
The Eagles defeated Miyamura (46-21) in the quarterfinals and last week in the semi’s they edged Roswell (27-20).
“This year’s season has been a tough road of adversity and accomplishments,” Henington said. “We have one goal left.”
Henington took over the head coaching job in Belen last year.
In addition to being a former player, Pearson has also driven the Artesia team this season as a bus driver.
“I like their chances Saturday,” Pearson said.
He added he was concerned about Artesia’s venture to Farmington last weekend. The long ride didn’t affect the team. Pearson also offers some advice for the Bulldogs of today.
“Leave it on the field and don’t underestimate your opponent,” he said.
Pearson also added, “once a Bulldog, always a Bulldog.”