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Hotchkiss-Paonia grid rivalry gets extreme

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Photo by Eric Goold Hotchkiss wide receiver Julian Smith is tackled by Paonia linebacker Jeramiah Hillman (33) in last Friday night's rivalry game. The Eagles' 49-14 victory kept the North Fork Bowl trophy in Paonia for a third straight year.

A player was ejected. The head coaches confronted each other during a contentious postgame handshake, and 63 points were scored.

Hotchkiss and Paonia renewed a contest that has been played in the North Fork Valley for nearly a hundred years last Friday night at Hotchkiss High School.

The Eagles came away with a 49-14 victory that secured at least a share of the Western Slope Conference title and repercussions will be felt for at least another week as this emotional rivalry only got hotter.

"I'm proud of the way the kids battled and we're going to get better for this," Hotchkiss coach Mike Sirko said. "It's one of those things where we just gotta get better."

One thing is certain: Taylor Walters was heard from. The senior quarterback from Paonia has not lost to Hotchkiss in his football career, and he played maybe his best game in the rivalry last Friday night.

Walters ran for four touchdowns and threw for another as he showed the skill set that has college recruiters giddy at the thought of what he can do at the next level.

Wade Katzdorn put the Bulldogs on the board first with his 5-yard touchdown run.

Paonia responded by rattling off the next five touchdowns, starting with a 1-yard run by Walters.

The teams traded possessions, then Jeramiah Hillman blazed off tackle for a 35-yard touchdown and a 14-7 Paonia lead.

Junior linebacker Trevor Smith blocked Colton Peebles' punt on the ensuing Bulldogs drive and set up the Eagles with good field position. Walters took advantage of it and ran in a 6-yard touchdown right before halftime, putting the Eagles in front 21-7.

"We had a pretty good effort, we had a good first half," Sirko said. "We just put the ball on the ground too much, made too many mistakes. We knew it'd be tough coming in here. I'm proud of the way they battled in the first half."

Smith collected a 28-yard scoring pass from Walters to open the second half, and Paonia was in command at 28-7.

Hotchkiss put together a promising eight-play drive, but it ended when Smith forced and recovered a fumble. Walters scored again, an 8-yard TD run, and Paonia was up 35-7.

The Bulldogs put together another ground and pound drive, this one ending with Katzdorn rushing into the house for a 4-yard TD that made the score 35-14. Katzdorn finished with 105 rushing yards and two scores for Hotchkiss.

Walters answered with his gem of a 46-yard touchdown run, slicing down the sideline and giving Paonia a 42-14 edge going into the fourth quarter.

Trevor Plymale completed the scoring in the game with his 3-yard TD burst four minutes later.

Smith was ejected after being flagged for his second unsportsmanlike penalty late in the contest. By rule he must sit out this Friday night's game against Cedaredge.

Paonia coach Brent McRae blamed himself for not taking Smith out after his first unsportsmanlike flag.

"But it was iffy on that first one whether he did it or not, so we kept him in there," McRae said. "He's a young man and he's got to learn composure. As a team we all have to learn to be composed."

Both teams got chippy at the end of the game, and multiple penalty flags flew.

"We'll clean that up. That's something we've got to work on," McRae said.

Paonia (7-1, 4-0 WSC) can win the conference title outright with a victory at home over Cedaredge (7-1, 3-1 WSC) on Friday night. Hotchkiss (3-5, 2-2 WSC) goes to Meeker (5-3, 3-1 WSC) to finish out the regular season.

"We're excited for the future of the program," Sirko said. "We've got a big matchup against Meeker that we got to get ready for, and that's what we're worried about right now."

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