Action began in the 1A Western Slope Conference last Friday night in Cedaredge, and Delta County fans can anticipate great football games as local teams make their push for the playoffs.
Perennial rivals kicked off against each other when Cedaredge hosted Hotchkiss. It was a typical rivalry game that wasn't decided until the fourth quarter, when the Bruins rallied for two scores and defeated the Bulldogs 19-12.
"My hat's off to Hotchkiss," Bruins coach Brandon Milholland said. "They're very well coached. I have a whole lot of respect for that coaching staff and Coach Sirko and what he does there. It was toe to toe and just a lot of fun."
Cedaredge (5-0, 1-0) had to overcome some nerves and sloppy play early as the Bruins fumbled away two of their first possessions and punted on a third.
Hotchkiss (1-4, 0-1) took advantage of the resulting good field position. Colton Peebles set up the Bulldogs with a strong punt return, then Julian Smith took a handoff from Colton DeLuzio and ran a reverse eight yards into the end zone for the game's first touchdown late in the first quarter.
A bad snap derailed the Bulldogs' extra point attempt and Hotchkiss settled for a 6-0 lead.
Another bad snap on a punt attempt later on set up Cedaredge on the 19-yard line. Isaac Swoffer put the Bruins on the board with his 14-yard scoring run and the home team took a 7-6 lead into halftime.
"Cedaredge is a good football team, give them credit," Hotchkiss coach Mike Sirko said. "They're gonna do good things this year, and Coach Milholland and his staff did a great job preparing. It was just a great football game between two good clubs."
The Bulldogs refused to roll over and put together an old school, ground and pound 19-play drive to open the second half. Kale Litzelman scored from two yards out to cap the drive and Hotchkiss took the lead back, 12-7, going into the fourth quarter.
The Bulldogs had seven sophomores either starting or playing significant roles in the contest.
"Some of them played like seniors, and I was so proud of that," Sirko said. "I felt really good about how well they played. The few seniors that we have battled and led by example and our young kids followed. That's the third straight top 10 team we've played and our kids kept battling."
Cedaredge put together a nine-play drive that ended in Tyler Cooper's blast up the middle for a 21-yard touchdown. The Bruins reclaimed the lead at 13-12 with a little over 11 minutes left in the game.
Hotchkiss got bogged down on its next two possessions, and a bad snap on a punt attempt again set the Bruins up in Bulldogs territory.
Cedaredge scored one final time in dramatic fashion to claim the victory.
On fourth and 26 with a little over a minute and a half left, Milholland called a creative fake punt that saw freshman Jared Reynolds collect a pitch, roll to his right, and pass to a wide open Tristen Waddell for a 34-yard touchdown.
"Jared Reynolds doesn't even know that he's a freshman," Milholland said. "He doesn't even know that he's a varsity football player right now. He's a great kid and all my kids are great kids. They're an awesome group to be around, win or lose. And right now it's been a whole lot of fun because we're 5-0."
Hotchkiss had one last drive to try to tie the game, but Cedaredge sophomore Pedro Madaleno snagged an interception to stymie the Bulldogs final effort.
With the team undefeated and ranked fourth, Cedaredge fans are starting to recall the 2012 season when the Bruins defeated Hotchkiss twice in close games en route to the 1A state championship.
"I don't want to speak too soon. We're in a really tough league," Milholland said. "I do have a very special feeling about these kids. But there's some comparisons there for sure, absolutely."
Paonia (4-1, 1-0) won its conference opener and recovered from its first loss in over two years, beating Grand Valley 65-0. The Eagles scored on three interception returns in the rout.
Meeker (3-2, 1-0) beat Lake County 45-14. The Cowboys are ranked ninth in a state poll and are scheduled to face the third ranked Eagles on Friday at Paonia Town Park.