The Hotchkiss High School football team is going through some growing pains, but the young Bulldogs are learning along the way, and they are not going to roll over for anybody.
In a scintillating and often frustrating home opener at Hotchkiss last Friday night, the visiting Olathe Pirates stormed back from a late deficit to force overtime and beat the Bulldogs 29-27.
After battling hard all night, Hotchkiss (1-1) looked to be in charge at 21-13 with 2:39 left on the clock in regulation.
But the Pirates (1-0) got a late touchdown and 2-point conversion to stage the overtime session, then fullback Chayden Harris scored from one yard out and quarterback Dillon Nelson ran in the 2-pointer to put Olathe ahead for good.
"Hotchkiss has one heck of a team. They're well coached, they do a lot of good things," Pirates coach Ryan Corn said. "That was a good, fun, old high school football game. Loved it."
Hotchkiss head coach Mike Sirko was disappointed with the outcome but not the Bulldogs' effort.
"Down the road, I think our kids found out a lot," Sirko said. "They learned that they can play with people and I think that's gonna help us."
Both teams showed early-season jitters, as the first quarter was bogged down with penalties and punts. That all changed when Olathe's Jake Jimenez peeled off a 65-yard touchdown scamper to put the visitors ahead 7-0.
Adversity kept piling up on the Bulldogs. Late in the first quarter senior standout Jaden Simpson was injured after a long punt return and did not return to the contest.
"I thought our kids showed some real resilience after one of our best players went down at the beginning of the game," Sirko said.
Hotchkiss tied the game right before half. Facing third and 7 on the 36, Bulldogs quarterback Colton Deluzio threw down the sideline for receiver Julian Smith, who was double covered.
Smith made a great adjustment, turned in midair and plucked the football right over a defender's helmet to make the spotlight catch of the game.
Fullback Devan Curtis ran the ball in from the 3-yard line on the next play and Alex Aguilera's kick tied the game 7-7 going into the intermission.
Hotchkiss got the ball first in the third quarter but saw its drive stall. Olathe's Anotonio Lovato took the ensuing punt return back for a 65-yard touchdown and a 13-7 Pirates lead.
The score was unchanged until midway through the fourth quarter, when Hotchkiss junior tailback Wade Katzdorn was finally able to break free for a 48-yard scoring run that put the Bulldogs ahead 14-13.
Riding the momentum, Hotchkiss scored again three minutes later when Deluzio weaved his way across the field, making three or four Pirate defenders miss tackles on a 43-yard gem of a touchdown run.
Down 21-13, the Pirates got just what they needed when Dexter Flick charged 58 yards up the middle of the field for a huge kick return to set up the offense late in regulation.
Flick finished the drive with an 8-yard touchdown reception from Nelson, and Dominick English ran in the 2-pointer to tie the game 21-21 and set up the overtime.
Olathe got the ball first and put 8 more points on the scoreboard.
Hotchkiss answered with Katzdorn's 1-yard touchdown on its overtime possession, but Katzdorn was stopped inches short of the end zone on his 2-point attempt, and the Pirates escaped with the victory.
Katzdorn had a second consecutive great game for the Bulldogs, posting 149 yards and two touchdowns on 29 rushes. Deluzio tallied 58 yards and a score and Curtis rounded out the rushing stats with 50 yards and a touchdown.
Hotchkiss is at No. 2 Buena Vista on Friday night. Game time is scheduled for 7 p.m.