Panthers fall to Artesia 42-35 in 5A semifinal

Karl Schneider

FARMINGTON – Piedra Vista’s football season came to an end today as the Panthers fell to Artesia 42-35 in the 5A semifinals at the Bulldog Bowl in Artesia.

The Panthers had a chance to tie or win the game late in the fourth quarter.

Trailing 42-35 in the fourth quarter, PV forced and recovered a fumble at its own 27-yard line to give the Panthers the ball back with 7:24 remaining. PV then, moved the ball inside the Artesia 35-yard line where the drive stalled.

Facing a fourth-and-7 situation at the 31, PV quarterback Elijah Gamboa fired a pass across the middle, but Artesia’s Carlos Carrasco jumped the route and picked it off to secure the win.

“I think we had a heck of a game plan offensively, and were able to put up 35 points on them,” PV head coach Jared Howell said. “We had a tough task in stopping their quarterback, (Justin) Houghtaling, who has a great arm, and we got into a game where both defenses were struggling to find a way to stop the offense. We needed a couple of more stops, and we didn’t make them when we needed to.”

The Panthers started strong, scoring on their first two possessions.

Artesia won the coin toss and received the opening kick, but PV’s defense held Artesia to one first down and forced the Bulldogs to punt.

PV took over at its own 12-yard line, and drove 88 yards in 4:32, finding the end zone on a Gamboa 5-yard run to take a 7-0 lead with 5:34 remaining in the opening quarter.

Artesia answered on its next possession, driving 70 yards and scoring on a 2-yard run to tie the game.

The deadlock didn’t last long, as Gamboa hit senior receiver Casey Simmons for a 63-yard touchdown to retake the lead at 14-7 with 1:31 left in the opening quarter.

The Bulldogs scored on their next three possessions and held a 28-14 lead with 28 seconds left before the half. That’s when lightning struck for the Panthers in the form of Alex Shay.

Shay received an Artesia kickoff at the 8-yard line and returned it 92 yards for the touchdown and sent the game to halftime with his team trailing only 28-21.

“(Shay) made a tremendous effort, and he broke it. He’s sick as a dog, coughing the whole time, but he refused to go down,” Howell said of the kick return touchdown. “And it wasn’t just Alex, we had efforts like that everywhere today. The kids refused to quit, and that’s championship football.”

PV couldn’t keep the momentum from Shay’s touchdown going and went three and out on its first two possession of the third quarter.

Artesia scored on its ensuing possession to make it 35-21, but on its second possession PV regained some momentum.

Artesia tried a fake punt on fourth and 9 at the PV 47-yard line, but the Panthers hit the Bulldogs for a 4-yard loss and took over at the Artesia 49-yard line.

The Panthers quickly drove the 49 yards and scored on a 6-yard run by Gamboa to make it 35-28 with 4:23 left in the third quarter.

Late in the period, the two teams traded fumbles. The Bulldogs cashed in on their takeaway with a touchdown to extend their lead to 42-28 with 11:53 left in the game.

PV cut the lead to 42-35 when Gamboa found Simmons for an 11-yard touchdown reception with 7:56 remaining.

PV’s 10-2 record this season matches the second best in school history.

“They accomplished almost all of our goals, and we just fell short of our ultimate goal,” Howell said. “No one gave it to us, and we didn’t have an easy road to get here. This group has been through a lot, and they showed a lot of resiliency to get this far.”

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