Panthers take on Artesia in 5A semifinal

Karl Schneider
Piedra Vista's Alex Shay avoids a tackle during last week's playoff game against Roswell at Hutchison Stadium in Farmington.

FARMINGTON – The Piedra Vista football team avenged one of this season’s losses last week, beating Roswell 27-16. Now, the Panthers will try to avenge last season’s 5A quarterfinal loss to Artesia when the two teams take the field at 1 p.m. Saturday in the 5A semifinals at the Bulldog Bowl in Artesia.

Last year, the Bulldogs beat PV 54-7 in Artesia. In that game, Artesia returned the opening kick 90 yards for a touchdown, then recovered an onside kick and scored again to make it 14-0 less than one minute into the game, crushing PV’s hopes for an upset.

Artesia went on to win the 5A state title, making it the Bulldogs' 28th state championship and seventh in 14 seasons.

But this year’s crop of Panthers is much improved from the team Artesia beat up a year ago. They’re bigger, stronger and faster. Most important, they're smarter and more experienced.

“The Artesias and Goddards and teams like that of the world, you just have to see them to understand what the speed and atmosphere is going to be like,” PV head coach Jared Howell said. “This year, we’re obviously a year older and have some athletes back who we didn’t have last year, but this year we also have a team that’s more experienced and knows what they’re in for. It’s nothing new, so we don’t have to prep them for that.”

The No. 2 Bulldogs beat No. 7 St. Pius X 27-21 last week to advance to the semifinals. In that win, Artesia (10-1) built a 21-0 lead in the second quarter, but Pius scored in the final seconds of the second period to send the game to halftime at 21-7.

Pius would go on to score two more touchdowns to tie the game at 21 in the fourth quarter, threatening to end the defending state champions' season. But Artesia finally broke out of its funk in the fourth quarter and recaptured the lead with a touchdown with a little more than three minutes remaining. After the extra point attempt went awry, the door was still open for Pius, but the Bulldogs picked off a pass to secure the win.

Artesia’s lone loss of the season came on Oct. 2, when the Bulldogs fell to 6A Las Cruces 41-25.

This year’s trip to the semifinals is just the third in school history for No. 3 PV (9-2). The last time the Panthers reached the semis was in 2006, when they fell to Goddard 49-6.

If the Panthers are able to pick up a win, it will be the second time in school history the team has advanced to the state final. PV's only trip to the championship game came in 2000, the school’s third year of existence, when the Panthers lost to Roswell 35-31.

“Everyone starts the year with the goal of playing for and winning a state championship, and we’re one game away from having the chance for those dreams to come true,” Howell said. “We knew the road was going to go through Artesia, Centennial or Goddard, so we just tried to mentally prepare for those teams.”

Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.