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Big time games this weekend

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For true football fans of Chaves County, the next three weeks are what they live for. Starting this weekend until Nov. 3, a lot of district titles are going to be settled on the football field. With so much on the line, one loss could mean the difference between being in a district playoff game and sitting at home watching as a fan.

There is no bigger matchup in the state than when the No. 1 ranked team in District 4-5A Artesia Bulldogs come calling in the Wool Bowl against the No. 3 ranked Roswell Coyotes. With the resurgence of the Coyotes in the last couple of years, this game is starting to be as hotly contested as the Goddard-Roswell game. Both teams know that to get to Goddard, they must handle their business against each other tonight.

These teams are no stranger to each other on both sides of the ball. Roswell wants to use various formations and pound All-State running back Gabriel Najar up the middle. Najar is having another solid campaign with a team-high 748 yards.

It has been the Coyotes’ tendency that once teams begin to pinch down and try to stop the Najar, look for quarterback Michael Ponce to pull the ball out and look to either keep the ball or get it into the hands of one of their speed backs, either Brandon Perez or Daniel Sosa to get to the outside.

If Artesia stuffs the box with eight or nine defenders and plays the run exclusively, look for Coyote quarterback Michael Ponce to pull the ball down and go deep. In last year’s game, the Coyotes pounded the ball on the ground for 298 yards on 52 attempts.

Earlier in the year, Artesia had trouble stopping Hobbs’ running game, granted the Eagles threw the ball 90 percent of the time, but they would feed it to the fullback right up the middle. In the Hobbs game, Artesia had a problem with the more physical interior O and D-lines.

“We are going to have to have tackle well in space after the catch,” Jeff Lynn said. “We have to keep things in front of us. We can’t get upset if they move the ball on us, you should know Artesia is a good football team, and they’re going to move the ball. We must limit yards after the catch and play assignment football.”

One of the weakest parts of the Bulldogs’ game is special teams. Hobbs ran a fake punt on them a couple of times for first downs against them.

For Roswell to win this game, they must rush for 400 yards and control the line of scrimmage. The Coyotes’ constant physical pounding must show up in money time: the fourth quarter.

On defense, Roswell must tackle Artesia’s short passing game for little-to-no yards. For a change of pace, the Bulldogs will feed the ball to versatile running back Robert Fernandez, who is a capable receiver out of the backfield. He is mainly used as a safety valve on swing passes and on-screen passes. Fernandez has the speed and capabilities to take it to the house every time he touches the ball.

“This is a game that is really going to matter,” Lynn said. The next three weeks are going to be fun. Our team is excited. In order for us to be successful tonight, we have to win our one-on-one match-ups.”

Artesia head football coach Rex Henderson said his staff and players didn’t take a vacation during their off week.

He said the team, “worked on fundamentals, fine tuned some things and healed up a bit.”

The Bulldogs (5-2) start District 4-5A action tonight at the Wool Bowl against the Coyotes.

Henderson has nothing but praise for the opposition.

“(Roswell is a) good football team,” he said. “Coach (Jeff) Lynn has done a great job with that program.”

Lynn took over the reigns of the Coyote program in 2013 and Henderson said Roswell’s future foes shouldn’t look past them.

“(Roswell) is a great football program right now,” Henderson said. “One of the top teams in Class 5A.”

When it comes to the nuts and bolts of the Coyotes, Henderson said, “they do a lot of things well.”

“(Roswell does a) good job running the football and the team has speed.”

Artesia has some offensive weapons of their own. The Bulldogs have scored 316 points this season.

Senior quarterback Taylor Null is the master of ceremonies for Artesia’s offense. He has completed 132 passes out of 204 attempts this season.

He’s also thrown 24 touchdown passes this season and has passed for 2,027 yards.

Senior running backs A.J. Estrada, Robert Fernandez and Tyler Greenwood are some of his offensive weapons.

On the other side of the football, the Bulldogs have given 146 points all season.

Henderson said the Bulldogs are, “anxious, ready to go and rested up.”

Goddard at Lovington

This game will be “The Family Feud.” On the Goddard side will be head coach Chris White going against tonight’s opponent, Lovington senior offensive tackle Preston White.

White (Preston) is the coach’s nephew. White currently has three offers from DII schools.

Second-year Wildcats coach Anthony Gonzales has three games this season, two more than last year. With a strong showing in district play, his team could be in the playoffs for the first-time in a long time.

On offense, the Wildcats will run the spread offense. They will play three quarterbacks, some due to injury, and the other two to give teams a different look. Casey Perez is a sophomore and has thrown for 1,804 yards and 15 TDs. The other quarterback with the most attempts passing the ball is Isaac Robles. Robles has thrown the ball for 287 yards and one TD.

“We have to control the line of scrimmage to win tonight,” coach White said. “We have to execute. We have to get after their quarterback and not give him a lot of time to throw the ball. He has a lot of skill guys who are dangerous. They run a lot of precision routes, and we have to disrupt their timing.”

When Lovington throws the ball, they like to spread it around. The favorite Wildcats target is Evan Cesareo, he has 39 receptions and 705 yards, with seven TDs. Isaiah Brown is second on the team in receptions with 35, and 344 yards and four TDs.

When the Wildcats pound the rock, look for Cesareo to tote it. Cesareo has 53 carries on the season for 323 yards and five TDs.

“Coach White called and welcomed me to New Mexico when I took the job,” Gonzales said. “I think the world of him and getting ready for Goddard brings another set of problems for us. We have to be ready to control the line of scrimmage and get off the field on third downs, or it is going to be a long night.”

On defense, look for them to run a 4-3 defense. Look for Kyle Carter, the team’s leading tackler, to be in the backfield, and safety Lucas Arreola to man the secondary. With a finishing schedule of Goddard, Roswell and Artesia, this is a must win if they want to make their district playoff game in years.

“Once you get into district, it’s a dog fight,” White said. “We don’t ever try to look ahead. We try to prepare each week the same no matter who we are playing.”

Dexter at Loving

Dexter doesn’t want this game; they need this game. This team has played so hard on the O and D-lines that they deserve better. They took Eunice No. 1 ranked team in the district to the limit before giving way to penalties, for lack of self-control and fatigue. If this team is to make the playoffs regardless of who the quarterback is, they have to throw enough to keep teams from stacking the box. Last game, the Demons played with their leader quarterback Jarren Amaro. Junior Sergio Ramirez did an admirable job filling in and used good decision making in taking a couple of sacks instead of throwing an interception.

Running back Gustavo Macias may not play again because of a knee injury suffered against Portales as his cleats were caught in the grass in the first quarter. The offensive line has opened holes this season and demoralized opponents by breaking the huddle and charging to the line of scrimmage like it’s payday. The defense played with a physicality that Eunice didn’t expect last week. With Tularosa next week, look for a big effort to set up another must-win road game.

Jal at Hagerman

In comes district-leading Jal. For the average football fan, one would expect a mercy-rule game. This could be an upset special, for they only have 23 players to start the season, and have suffered three injuries on the offensive line, to starting two freshmen. And don’t forget the Bobcats have played without their quarterback Jakob Bejarano. He may or may not play tonight. Kudos to first-year coach Adrian Olivas for teaching his team about hanging tough during a tough season.

Last week was a bye week for the Bobcats, with only one game left after this one, they still have a chance to win district if they win this week and next.

“Although we want to win,” Olivas said. “Seeing the culture change on this football team has been a positive. We have seen great improvements in our players this year.”

Carrizozo at Gateway

The Gateway Christian Warriors are looking to stop a two-game losing skid tonight.

The Warriors (2-3,1-2) host the Carrizozo Grizzlies (4-2,1-2) tonight in Roswell. It is the final home game on Gateway’s regular season schedule.

The Warriors lost last week at home to Tatum, 33-19 and the week before they lost in Las Cruces to Mesilla Valley Christian 45-36.

Earlier this week, Warrior head coach Shaun Wigley gave an overview on what the Warriors have been doing this week.

“Been working to clean up some stuff,” he said.

He said the Warriors need some consistency in the execution of the game plan.

As the Warriors get ready to hunt the Grizzlies, Wigley offered a scouting report.

“(Carrizozo has) played pretty tough this year,” he said.

“They played Cloudcroft close this year,” Wigley added.

Cloudcroft edged Carrizozo 30-26.

“They’re gonna be tough every year we play them,” Wigley said.

In order to break the losing streak, Wigley said Gateway needs to take care of the football.

Against MVCS, the Warriors were down 19-0 in the opening period. “We scored 35 and lost the game,” he said.

“Last week, we actually started the first series pretty well,” Wigley said.

Again, this is where consistency comes into play, according to Wigley.

“Tatum last week hurt us in the air and on the ground,” he said.

Wigley said Gateway have given up the big play this season.

During the past couple of weeks, the Warriors have been without senior threat Dominic Gomez.

“Dominic Gomez will be back this week,” Wigley said. “(Gomez) plays hard and is an emotional kid. It hurt not having him against Tatum.”

Wigley said junior quarterback Wyatt Arlet was “banged up” against Tatum.

“We’re working him slowly,” Wigley said. “He’s expected to play.”

“Our team’s season has been a bit up and down, injuries have been a main factor,” said Carrizozo head coach Dale Jackson.

“We have a fairly balanced team talent-wise,” Jackson said of his charges.

Last week, the Grizzlies stopped a two-game losing streak of their own, defeating Mescalero Apache High School, 34-20.

The win over the Warriors was also the first league win for Carrizozo.

“The Mescalero game we played hard, but the score was kept close due to penalties,” Jackson said.

“For us to have success, we need to play good team football and eliminate or minimize mistakes (penalties). We also need to play our game and not have the game dictated to us,” Jackson said of his team’s keys to victory.