When the dust settles on the 2019 high school football season, reflective types might well remember the Artesia Bulldogs as perhaps the best No. 10 seed in the history of the Class 5A state playoffs.
Arguably one of the top teams in its classification all season, they slipped into the realm of double-digit seed by virtue of an upset loss to Alamogordo in the final week of the regular season. It took all of 10 minutes of Friday night’s playoff opener at Jaguar Field for the Bulldogs to prove they were vastly underrated.
They scored four times in their first 10 offensive plays and rolled to a 56-35 win at Capital, ending the Jaguars’ promising season a little sooner than some probably expected. Artesia advances to next week’s state quarterfinals at No. 2 Los Lunas.
Seeded No. 7 after five shutouts in nine games, and an undefeated run through district play, Capital (6-4) was simply no match for the Artesia offensive machine in the first half. Bulldogs quarterback Clay Houghtaling was incredible, completing all 13 of his pass attempts for 331 yards and six touchdowns.
He opened the game with a 62-yard touchdown pass just 16 seconds into the first quarter, then followed it with scoring passes of 22, 5, 28, 5 and 56 yards as the Bulldogs opened a commanding 43-0 lead at halftime.
“We can’t simulate that kind of offense in practice,” Capital head coach Bill Moon said. “We just can’t.”
Houghtaling did have one incomplete pass, a bullet throw that went through his receiver’s hands in the second quarter. It was immediately nullified on a pass interference penalty against his own man.
“When you run into a tsunami, if you float back to the top, you just gotta start swimming, and that’s pretty much what did it,” Moon said. “I told these guys before the game that each one of these teams is going to try and break the other one’s soul in the first quarter.”
Moon said the Jaguars simply got caught up in the moment, that part of the season where playoff pressure meets the intimidating factor of playing an Artesia program that has won 30 state championships, has an army of support personnel — like a sideline flat-screen TV to instantly allow the players to dissect plays the moment they leave the field — and the intangibles of such as the pregame Dog Pile and depth of running 11 players onto the field for offense and 11 others on defense.
It wasn’t until halftime that the Jaguars finally got the message that all it takes is one play at a time to build confidence.
“A lot was said in the locker room,” running back Gio Muñoz said. “We were way down, but [the] coaches said to play with heart, to keep fighting.”
With Artesia’s starters riding the bench for the second half, Capital was able to mount some offense. Muñoz finished the game with 101 yards rushing and a touchdown while fellow running back Luke Padilla had 210 yards and two scoring runs.
Moon lauded his players for coming out and continuing to work hard in the second half.
“The game had kind of gotten away from us at that point, but it gave us something to build on because, let’s face it, this is a team with a lot coming back next year,” he said.
Only two seniors started on offense while three did so for the defense. It makes the 2020 campaign that much brighter.
“If we’re not in this same position again this time next year, I’d be shocked,” Moon said. “We’ve been here now. We’ve seen it. We’ve lived in the moment, and had some good things happen. We can used that in the next nine months to get ready to come back out here next year and see where we can take it.”
Capital’s other second-half touchdowns came on short runs by quarterback Manuel Vargas and fullback Sean Ulibarri. All told, the Jaguars had 335 yards offense; all but eight of them coming in the rushing category.
Artesia had 499 yards of total offense. Even backup quarterback Cord Cox got into the act, completing five of his seven passes for 45 yards and a touchdown. Houghtaling and Cox had seven scoring passes between them with an eighth touchdown coming on a kickoff return by Erik Cueto in the second half.
“I mean, they’re a good team, but we’ll be back,” Munoz said. “You learn from things like this, you know?”
Capital was not called for a penalty until the second half. … Padilla had 33 carries, finishing a stellar junior season with 1,842 yards rushing. He was one of nine Jaguars named to the All-District 2/6-5A team, which will be formally announced Saturday. … Capital has now finished at or above .500 in five of the last six seasons.