The Hotchkiss High School football team knew that competition in the 1A Western Slope Conference wasn't going to be easy.
The Bulldogs got a look at just how tough the league gets when No. 7 Meeker came to Hotchkiss and dominated from the opening kickoff till the last whistle in a 36-7 win last Friday night.
"The boys fought for four quarters. We made some second half adjustments, created some turnovers on defense which was huge," Hotchkiss coach Curtis Hintz said. "We just got to be able to capitalize on the offensive side of the ball. But the boys played hard for four quarters. They played together. We just got to continue to work and continue to get better."
The visiting Cowboys took the opening kickoff and marched right down the field in eight plays.
Junior quarterback Logan Hughes, a left-hander in his third season under center for Meeker, found Trapper Merrifield for a five-yard touchdown toss that quickly put the Cowboys in front 6-0.
Hotchkiss punted after drives stalled in its first three possessions.
Meeker owned the line of scrimmage all night behind two-way starters Eli Newman and Tyler Ilgen, who were the guards on offense and tackles on defense.
Newman, a junior, is tall and long and quick. Ilgen, a senior, is a mountain of a man who has good footwork.
The pair kept Hughes safe from rushing Bulldogs throughout the contest and shut down the Hotchkiss ground game on the other side of the ball.
After Colton Peebles punted to end the Bulldogs third possession, Meeker needed just two plays to build its lead.
Hughes connected with Hunter Garcia on a 50-yard pass play, then Doak Mantle ran off-tackle for a 25-yard touchdown. Hughes ran in the two-point conversion and the Cowboys were in front 14-0.
Meeker put the game out of reach with an 11-play scoring drive that covered 55 yards.
Hughes tossed his second touchdown pass, this one a seven-yard strike to Mantle, and Mantle's ensuing two-point run made it 22-0 for the Cowboys at halftime.
The Bulldogs went three-and-out to open the second half, then Peebles intercepted Hughes and got the ball back for Hotchkiss.
The home team put together a 10-play drive to get on the scoreboard. Bulldogs quarterback Colton DeLuzio connected with Chase Hiatt on the drive's biggest play, a 16-yard pass that converted a third down to keep the drive going.
DeLuzio then zipped an eight-yard slant to Kevin Chavez for the Bulldogs lone touchdown. Peebles kicked the extra point.
Meeker responded immediately, putting together eight crisp plays that ended in Hughes' third touchdown pass, this one a 25-yard lob to a wide open Cole Brown. Mantle's two-point run made it 30-7 for the Cowboys.
Meeker's defense proved too much for the Bulldogs. Hotchkiss couldn't get its ground game working and was forced to pass every play at the end.
Cowboys senior Korey Hood provided the final score when he ran in a five-yard touchdown with 7:25 left in the contest. Meeker improved to 5-0, 1-0 WSC.
Hotchkiss slipped to 3-2, 0-1 WSC. Things don't get any easier for the Bulldogs, who go to No. 1 Paonia Friday night at 7 p.m.
"Paonia is solid. We've got the rivalry coming up and they're a tough team. Coach McRae does a fantastic job with them," Hintz said. "We've got to be ready to regroup and get ready to go and give it everything we've got for four quarters."