Once again, Hotchkiss claimed the win at the annual North Fork Bowl gridiron game against Paonia. The Bulldogs scored three first-half touchdowns and took advantage of seven Eagles' turnovers to win Friday night's game, 39-6, at Paonia.
"We were so focused on winning," said Paonia quarterback Ty Coats. "We didn't come to play. We just didn't execute. We had too many turnovers. That's what killed us, too many turnovers."
But for the Bulldogs, it was Friday Night Lights.
Running back Jacobe Galley rushed for 166 yards and three touchdowns against the Eagles. Quarterback Josh Hardin ran for a TD, and cornerback Hank Edwards showed why he is a top-ranked defensive player, scoring two fourth-quarter defensive touchdowns in a span of about 20 game seconds.
"We're really excited for Hank," said Hotchkiss head coach Zac Lemon. "He's been playing solid all year but never quite had the big plays."
"I just read my keys and broke on the ball and took it to the house," said Edwards, calling it his best game of the season. "Things finally started clicking."
Edwards had envisioned a different game. "I was kind of hoping we'd put 40 on them the first half and get the clock running," he said. But Paonia "kept pounding the ball. They're a good team."
While Paonia had eight penalties for 55 yards and the Bulldogs gave up 31 yards on four infractions, eight of the penalties were false starts. There were also no injury timeouts. For the most part, it was a clean game.
The Eagles fumbled on the opening possession, giving Hotchkiss the ball on the Paonia 28 and setting up a 14-yard touchdown run by Galley. The Bulldogs came up short on the two-point conversion attempt.
Paonia was forced to punt on its second possession, but botched the play when the kick hit a Paonia player in the back. The Bulldogs took possession on the Paonia 24, setting up a four-yard touchdown run by quarterback Josh Hardin. Galley's PAT gave the Bulldogs a 13-0 lead.
Despite losing 20 yards on three penalties, Paonia moved the ball into Hotchkiss territory on its next possession, but were again forced to punt.
Both teams began the second period with a three-and-out. The Bulldogs took possession inside their own 20 and headed south. Hardin connected on a 25-yard pass play to Devan Rupe, and Galley broke through the defense for a 48-yard run to the Paonia 26. Galley ended the drive on a 26-yard touchdown run. Eagle Jesse Reed tackled Edwards to break up the conversion attempt.
Paonia opened the second half with Gunnar Chesnik sacking Hardin for a loss. A penalty left Hotchkiss in a third-and-long situation and they were forced to punt. But Paonia fumbled, and Conner Beard recovered the ball inside the Paonia 30. Galley ran the ball to the 20, and on his next carry was tackled for a loss by Joel Simianer and Reed. Beard caught a Hardin pass near mid-field, but was stripped of the ball by Taylor Katzer. A false start cost Hotchkiss another five yards, and the Eagles took over on downs at their own 23.
After marching the ball to midfield, Reed broke loose for a 43-yard pass play and was brought down by Edwards at the four-yard line. Will Austin carried the ball up the middle for the score, but the PAT attempt was off, leaving the Eagles trailing, 19-6 with less than 5 minutes remaining in the third period.
Galley broke loose for a 37-yard touchdown run, then kicked the PAT for a 26-6 lead.
Paonia marched the ball into Bulldog territory early in the fourth and was threatening to score when Edwards returned an interception 80 yards for the score.
Paonia fumbled on the first play following the kickoff, and Edwards scooped the ball up and ran 17 yards for another score. River Panish's PAT was good for a 39-6 Hotchkiss lead.
Paonia held the Bulldogs' offense for the remainder of the game, but had three more turnovers before it was all over.
"It was a very physical game," said Lemon. "They played tough, they had a good scheme against us. It took us a while to figure out what they were doing." The Bulldogs had luck on their side, said Lemon, "But it was a very tough game."
It was the sixth consecutive year that Hotchkiss claimed the win. But more painful for Paonia is the fact that the win boosted Hotchkiss to second place in the Western Slope conference and leaves the Eagles in a must-win situation when they face top-ranked Cedaredge (7-1 overall, 4-0 Western Slope League), this Friday, at Cedaredge.
"We're going to keep our heads up," said Coats. "It's Hotchkiss. We'll get 'em one of these years." The two squads' JV teams played on Monday and Paonia won 16-0.
Hotchkiss will wrap up its schedule Friday night in a home game against Meeker (2-5, 2-2).