The annual North Fork football game between Paonia and Hotchkiss ended up being the closest game between the rival teams in recent history.
"They played hard, they played up to their ability and the level they're capable of," said Hotchkiss head coach Curtis Hintz. He described the game as "brutal ... They left it all on the field."
The final score: Paonia 7, Hotchkiss 6.
Hintz praised his team for playing a good game and for not giving up. They've been disciplined and worked hard all season, said Hintz, and that paid off Friday night.
Senior Wade Katzdorn had 30 carries for 99 yards, including a fourth quarter touchdown.
The Bulldog defense held Paonia, which had averaged almost 340 total yards per game this season, to 230 yards on the ground and no passing yards.
Paonia's only score came on the opening drive when junior fullback Jaden Miller broke loose for a 62-yard sprint to the end zone. Colby Simpson's extra point kick was straight down the middle.
Two Bulldog drives ended in interceptions deep in Eagles territory. Late in the first half, a 54-yard touchdown run by quarterback Colton Deluzio was negated on a controversial call. With under a minute remaining in the first half the Eagles stopped Katzdorn on a first and goal, and Alex Lozano picked off a Deluzio pass with nine seconds remaining.
The Bulldog defense came out strong in the second half, with Kale Litzelman intercepting for a touchback to end Paonia's opening drive. Two of Paonia's three penalties for the game came early in the half and put the Eagles in a third-and long situation and more than 30 yards from the line of scrimmage. On the snap Bulldog linebacker Eli Sawatzky put pressure on Dagan Rienks. His incomplete pass forced the Eagles to punt. The ensuing possession ended in a fourth and long situation and a Bulldog punt.
In the fourth period the Bulldogs recovered a Paonia fumble on their own 25.
Colton Peebles and Katzdorn took turns carrying the ball to midfield, and a pass from Deluzio to Litzelman put the ball at the Paonia 36. Katzdorn carried the ball to inside the 10, then put the ball on the 1-yard line. With just over three minutes remaining in the game, Katzdorn crossed the goal line untouched, but the PAT sailed just to the right of the goalpost.
The Dogs regained possession in their own territory with less than a minute to go, but with no timeouts left, were unable to capitalize.
"It was a lot of fun," and a closer game than expected, said Paonia head coach Brent McRae, who credited Hotchkiss for a good game. "They played hard, they played with heart and with desire."
Conspicuously missing from the Eagles lineup were starters Kayden Seriani, who averaged 44.5 yards on punt returns, and linebacker Cyrus Malek-Madani. Both are sidelined with injuries. Between players being shifted around and the fact that they were playing Hotchkiss put a lot of extra stress on players the first half. "I put kids in where I thought they could do the best," said McRae.
McRae said they'll review film to see what happened in the second half.
Paonia takes a 6-0 record into the home game against Olathe this Friday. The Pirates (3-3, 0-2) are one of two teams that dropped to Class 1A this season and are coming off of a 25-0 loss at Cedaredge. "They're a well-coached team," said McRae. "It will be a battle."
The Bulldogs are now 3-3 for the season and 0-2 in league play. They host the other new team in the 1A Western Slope League, Grand Valley (4-2, 1-1), this Friday. The Cardinals lost, 52-6, to undefeated Meeker Friday.
With three teams -- Paonia, Meeker and Cedaredge -- in the top 10 in state standings and five teams in the top 20, Hintz said the WSL is one of the toughest in the state.
The close game against the undefeated Eagles gives the team confidence they need to get through the remainder of the season, said Hintz. "We know that if we could play at the level we're capable of, we know that we can keep up with anybody, as we showed tonight."