Carlsbad made the most of its return to Friday night lights in New Mexico.
The Cavemen led from start to finish against Eddy County rival, Artesia, and was impressive in beating the Bulldogs, 31-6, at Ralph Bowyer Stadium in the season opener for both teams.
Last fall, high school football in New Mexico did not take place due to the COVID-19 pandemic and teams were limited to a handful of games in the spring. But Friday night, the fans, the band, the cheerleaders and the noise associated with a high school football game was back and the energy was felt throughout the night.
“To be back with a crowd cheering us on, our family and friends watching and just whole atmosphere was amazing,” junior quarterback Dane Naylor said. “We had the games in the spring, but it wasn’t the same thing. These Friday nights are what we play for.”
Artesia is typically one of the state’s top offensive teams, but Carlsbad controlled the line of scrimmage, limiting Artesia’s big plays and forced six turnovers. The Cavemen did not allow a second half score.
Strong first half for Carlsbad
The Cavemen scored the first 14 points of the half and took a 14-6 lead at halftime. The Cavemen defense forced three turnovers, including two interceptions.
Jonathan Mendez recovered an Artesia fumble at the Bulldogs’ 11, which set up a short touchdown run by Naylor in the first quarter and the tone was set for the rest of the game.
In the second quarter, Carlsbad used its running game to go up 14-0. Jesse Rodriguez scored from a yard out and he helped set it up with a 23-yard run to the three. Eli Asay also had a 13-yard run on the drive.
Artesia with nice score before half
After struggling to find consistency on offense in the first half, the Bulldogs scored with 1:09 left in the first half when Artesia quarterback Nathan Taylor connected with wide receiver Vance Cabogason on 26-yard touchdown pass, but the point after touchdown failed.
In 2018 Carlsbad defeated Artesia, 28-14, for the first time in five years. And in 2019 repeated the feat 48-35, when Carlsbad’s Nate Najar scored on a 12 yard run in the final minutes of the fourth quarter
Naylor comes up big in the second half
Naylor threw a touchdown pass, ran for a touchdown and kicked a field goal in the second half to help lead the Cavemen. His 22-yard-scoring run in the third quarter on a 4th and 19 seemed to take the energy out of the Artesia defense and gave Carlsbad the momentum it needed to take control of the game.
It’s Carlsbad time to dominate series
The Cavemen have been in control of the Eddy County rivalry of late. In 2018 Carlsbad defeated Artesia, 28-14, for the first time in five years. And in 2019 repeated the feat 48-35, when Carlsbad’s Nate Najar scored on a 12 yard run in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. The two teams played in March of this year and Carlsbad won, 35-34, in a game played in Hobbs.
Quoting the coach
“I’m really proud of our team,” said Carlsbad coach Gary Bradley, who is in his seventh season as head coach. “We were well prepared and expectations are high for us. Artesia is a great program and it will have a great season. Our defense was fantastic and I thought our offense did a good job.”
Quoting the players
“We prepared for this game all summer and through practice,” Carlsbad defensive back Rene Ramos said. “Our defense was outstanding and we limited the big plays, that was the key. We have faith in our team and have a lot of goals we want to reach for this season.”
Added Naylor: “The defense made the big difference in this game, those guys were outstanding. Our offense was solid. We ran the ball well. Our running backs did a great job, Jesse Rodriguez gave us some big runs to lead the way. Our offensive line was strong. I feel so confident in this team and we can go a long way this year.”
Carlsbad visits Roswell Goddard and Artesia is at home against Hobbs.
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Felix F. Chavez may be reached at 915-546-6167; [email protected]; @Fchavezeptimes on Twitter.