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District playoff picture to clear up this week

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One thing the methodical Roswell Coyote offense can’t do against the quick-strike offense of Lovington is play catchup. It’s not built to come from behind. Their offense is meant to wear teams down late in the game and force them into mistakes.

Against Artesia last week, the Bulldogs scored touchdowns on their first three possessions to make the score 21-0 in the first quarter. Before fans had a chance to settle into their seats, it was 35-0 at halftime.

“Artesia got after us pretty good,” said Roswell coach Jeff Lynn. “It just kind of got out of control. They had us schemed up pretty good, you could tell coming out of the bye week Artesia had a good game plan for us. They picked up our pressure and knew what to shift in, and they knew where to hit us. They were really prepared for us. Their quarterback Taylor Null was the difference in the game to me.”

Roswell returns to the friendly confines of the Wool Bowl tonight when they welcome in surprise team of district play this year, the Lovington Wildcats. Both teams know this game will have district and possibly state consequences for the winner.

Win or lose, Lovington has to travel to Artesia next week, and Roswell has its annual street fight with Goddard to end the season. Lovington has surprised many in the state with the resurgence as a contender for the district title. Second-year coach Anthony Gonzales was hired out of Dallas four months before their first football game. Gonzales has put in his system and hired a new offensive coordinator, and leaned heavily on a mix of seniors and sophomores to fill in the holes.

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Before any of that happens, Roswell faces another pass-happy team in the Lovington Wildcats. The Wildcats will run a spread offense and look to throw the ball 60 percent of the time. Their quarterback is sophomore Casey Perez, who has thrown for 2,046 yards and 18 TDs, while being intercepted six times. He is also their leading rusher with 380 yards and eight TDs.

Evan Cesareo is Perez’s favorite target, with 787 yards and eight touchdowns. Cesareo will run the ball from multiple formations, and has 323 yards on the ground with five rushing TDs. Some other receivers who have more than 200 yards are Sebastian Newman, with 360 yards and two TDs. Isaiah Brown has 344 yards and four TDs and JJ Gutierrez has shown a knack for getting open with 301 yards and two TDs.

“In order for us to beat Roswell, we must get off the field on third downs,” Gonzales said. “We cannot turn the ball over. Last week, we won the turnover battle, and we have to do that this week. Roswell will run a lot of motion and multiple formations, and shifts, but they really want to line up and run the ball down your throat, and we have to be ready for that.”

Lynn thinks that when Roswell has the ball, the Wildcats will flash multiple defenses at them from a 4-3, to a 5-2 and a split-six. He thinks that the Wildcats will game plan the Coyotes almost like they did Goddard, since both teams have similarities. Lynn looks for them to play zero coverage and a lot of man-free looks.

“I look for them to get after us and bring pressure,” Lynn said, “and kind of dare us to throw. We will play Michael Ponce and Daniel Sosa at quarterback. Our Achilles’ heel is our passing game. I felt like we had receivers running wide open against Artesia, and we failed to hit those guys.”

Coach Lynn feels like his team is ready to move on. In fact, after last week’s 42-7 loss, he didn’t show the Artesia film to his team, instead choosing to focus on this game.

“Nothing surprises me anymore,” Lynn said. “Today, anybody can be anybody. Lovington’s a good football team.”

To win this game, the Coyotes need to stay away from penalties, and they cannot get behind or turn the ball over.

“We’re locked in,” Lynn said. “We had a good week of practice, and I think the Coyotes are going to show up.”

Goddard at Artesia

For 365 days, all the Artesia Bulldogs thought about was payback — payback in a victory that was theirs until the last 10 seconds of the game. Artesia may say it’s another game, but a little payback is the order of the day.

Fast rewind, to the controversial ending of last year’s game. In a back-and-forth affair, it looked like the game was over when Artesia’s quarterback, Taylor Null, threw a TD with less than four minutes to go in the game. Null went from hero to goat as he threw an interception with 32 seconds left in the game.

It took three consecutive penalties by the Bulldogs to put Goddard in field goal position to win the game. With 10 seconds left in the game at the Wool Bowl, Goddard’s field goal kicker, Rusty Ross, kicked a 20-yard field goal to upset the No. 1 ranked Bulldogs at the Wool Bowl, 37-35.

“I’m sure in their mind that this is a revenge game,” Goddard coach Chris White said, “It’s always a knockdown drag out kind of a game. Whether it’s a rivalry or not, it’s a district game, and a district game is one of the playoff implications, and we’re fighting like crazy to get into the playoffs. We’re only guaranteed two more games.”

All summer long as the Bulldogs worked out in conditioning drills, this game was on their minds and lips. The Bulldogs have opened district play with a sound thumping, 42-7, in a game many expected to be a nail-biter, but was really over at halftime as the Bulldogs led 35-0.

Goddard feels like for them to win, they must control the ball, the line of scrimmage and the clock. With the Bulldogs, they have a host of receivers who can turn a short catch into a pose in the end zone.

Many teams try to stop Artesia’s passing game, but they used senior running back Robert Fernandez expertly with short passes out of the backfield on screen passes, or wheel routes. The Bulldogs like to run a sprint draw action to him and let him pick his own hole; the next thing Fernandez is into the next level and looking to score.

“They have a fantastic running game when they want to run the ball,” White said. “That’s what makes them so hard to defend. Artesia gets you so concerned with trying to stop the pass the next thing you know, they have just ripped off 15-20 yards, almost at will. Their quarterback is fast as well.”

Tonight’s game has not only district implications, but payoff consequences as well. Artesia comes into tonight’s game as the No. 1 seed in District 4-5A. Goddard is in a must-win situation after losing to upstart Lovington at their place last week, 35-28.

“Our boys are doing good,” White said. “We lost a heartbreaker last week to Lovington. You can break our heart, but you can’t break our spirit. Artesia is the No.1-ranked team in the state for a reason. We’ll have to go down and execute better than we did last week, and bottom line make more plays than we did.”

White feels like no one is giving his team a chance against the Bulldogs tonight, yet, he believes in his team. He thinks that maybe three teams could get into the playoffs.

“To win it, we have to be in it,” White said. “I believe we have a good enough team that on any given night, we can beat any team in the state. We definitely have to play flawless.”

Reflecting on last week’s District 4-5A opener versus Roswell, Artesia Head Football Coach Rex Henderson called the win at the Wool Bowl,”the most complete game we played all year.”

As a final postscript on the game he said, “our kids played really well.”

This week the Bulldogs focus on the Goddard Rockets. Henderson said the Rockets look like a typical Goddard team, “just younger in spots,” he said.

Henderson said Artesia will need to be sound in their defensive techniques and the offense will, “need to line up and play hard nosed tough football.”

The Bulldogs’ offense has scored 358 points this season and of course it all starts with senior quarterback Taylor Null.

Heading into tonight’s contest at Bulldog Bowl he has passed for 2,308 yards and 30 touchdowns and he’s averaging 288.5 yards passing per game.

Henderson is concerned about Goddard’s backfield.

“They run the ball well,” he said.

Henderson expects Rocket senior Diego Miranda to see a number of carries in tonight’s match up.

“He’s developed into a good football player,” Henderson said.

Henderson said Artesia is in a good spot and place this week. “The big thing is to improve every week.”

Henderson is looking forward to the team wrapping up the regular season at home. After tonight the Bulldogs will face Lovington Nov. 3  at 7 p.m.

Henderson said the front part of the Bulldogs’ schedule was loaded with some long road trips to Deming, Rio Rancho and Los Lunas. Those games were played last month.

Gateway vs Cloudcroft

Gateway head coach Shaun Wigley called last week’s win over Carrizozo, “a step in the right direction.”

“Winning is fun and losing is not,” he added.

The Warriors closed out the home portion of the regular season schedule last week with 64-26 win over the Grizzlies.

Tonight, Gateway(3-3, 2-2) head to Cloudcroft(5-3, 2-2) to take on the Bears in the regular season finale.

Wigley said his team was able to get some confidence after hunting down the Grizzlies. He was also proud of the play of the younger Warriors.

In the high country of Otero county, the Warriors will be on another Bear hunt.

“(Cloudcroft will be) pretty much the same team as last year,” he said.

One Bear that has Wigley concerned is sophomore quarterback Daniel Eldridge.

“They have a good quarterback,” Wigley said. “They throw the ball pretty well.”

Eldridge has completed 36 passes in 59 attempts and he’s thrown 12 touchdowns this year.

He’s also passed for 486 yards and has thrown three picks.

“They got good coaching,” Wigley said. “It will be challenging.”

At one time, Cloudcroft competed in 11 man football. Wigley said the Bears still play on a 50-yard field. The playing field at Warrior Stadium in Roswell s 40 yards wide.

Wigley said the game should be,”more wide open. It changes the angles.”

The Warriors will be traveling to a higher altitude tonight. Roswell is 3,573 feet above sea level and Cloudcroft is 8,668 feet above sea level.

Wigley isn’t concerned about the change in altitude.

“(Gateway has) played up there before. The way we condition we should be fine,” he said.

Wigley said the Warriors have 14 kids on the roster. “We condition pretty hard,” he said.

The Warriors will be counting on senior Dominic Gomez to lead them up the mountain.

Wigley called him the, “x-factor as far as the offense goes. He plays hard and wants to win.”

Wigley added that Gomez made some good plays on defense in last week’s win over Carrizozo.

Wigley said injuries have hampered the Warriors this year. Gomez missed a couple of weeks and Wigley said some kids were banged up against against the Grizzlies as well.

“Our season has been up and down,” said Cloudcroft head coach Matt Strickland.

The injury bug has plagued his team as well. He added that the Bears haven’t been able to land the knock out punch against the opposition this season.

“Our inability to finish the close games has been disappointing,” he said.

Along with the Bears potent passing attack, Strickland said Cloudcroft has a solid running game.

Junior running back Nathan Toddy has rushed for 1,775 yards this season and senior running back Jacob Toddy has rushed for 362 yards.

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