Lineman Mikey Cruz was the last Bobcat to wish well last fall’s first football casualty, as he – meaning then-junior tight end Nick Herrera – was loaded into an ambulance present up at Hotchkiss High School.
And it appears fate’s cruelty on such a battlefield can be limitless.
Now a junior himself, Cruz was unfortunately Ignacio’s first to fall in 2015, wheeled off IHS Field on a gurney with only 8:18 remaining in a game where even customary, “let’s go Cats!” chants sounded like, and more suitably served as ammunition for the enemy’s best weapon.
Powered by running back Wade Katzdorn’s 244 yards (unofficially) and three touchdowns – a fourth, covering 61 yards, was nixed by penalty – HHS came to town, dominated the trench-warfare aspect, and took control in the second half to secure the teams’ season-opener 43 to 0.
“I felt Wade ran really well behind his blockers,” said Bulldog head coach Mike Sirko. “He’s only a junior, and last year he had to play against some tough football teams … I think he grew up a lot.”
“They were just big and strong. They were faster than us, they were the way better team than we were … and you have to accept that,” Ignacio counterpart Alfonso ‘Ponch’ Garcia said. By the same token our kids did not give up – I told the kids you don’t quit until the last second – and we’re going to battle … because that’s the only way we’re going to build and get better.”
“We definitely played hard,” senior center/lineman Dustin Hall, whose wracked ankle late in the third quarter also required medical attention, said. “I think we definitely battled, but we just need to work more on filling in where we need to be. And being where we need to be when we see a play.”
Beginning with a 6-rush, 64-yard drive – capped by Katzdorn from 32 yards out – after Hall kicked off the non-conference contest, the ’Dogs (1-0, 0-0 Western Slope; ‘Receiving Votes’ in the CHSAANow.com Class 1A preseason poll going in) chewed up nearly 330 yards on the ground.
Junior quarterback Colton DeLuzio added 67 more on only three completions but Hotchkiss’ halftime advantage was just 16-zip – before DeLuzio hit senior TE Jaden Simpson from 28 yards out for the second half’s first points – as IHS’ defense produced about every one of the locals’ highlights.
Juniors Ethan Appenzeller and Dalton LaBarthe each recovered a fumble, diminutive freshman Lewis Valdez somehow pierced the visitors’ offensive line to block a PAT kick, and DeLuzio was sacked for a ten-yard loss to re-energize the Bobcats (0-1, 0-0 Southern Peaks) as they went into intermission.
“Our defense stepped it up,” senior Austin McCaw, who blanketed a fourth-quarter fumble ending HHS’ first series after sophomore Marcus Chapman swatted down another point-after try said. “We got a few unlucky plays, but the score didn’t reflect what we did; I think we played really aggressive.”
“I tell you what,” Garcia said. “Their heart was all on the field. I loved that.”
What none of the Cats loved was the Zero Week-style miscues.
Hotchkiss sophomore Devan Curtis and senior James LeValley each recovered botched tosses in the backfield – LeValley’s on a play where IHS junior Lorenzo Pena, already blocking downfield, appeared to not even know senior QB Zach Weinreich had tossed the ball behind him – during the first two stanzas.
HHS sophomore Colton Peebles, who’d ultimately enact CHSAA’s 40-point ‘mercy rule’ with just 1:13 remaining in the game following a punt-return score of some 45 yards, intercepted Weinreich with 3:41 left in the third to set up Katzdorn’s last six-pointer from six yards away, and Curtis subsequently smothered one of the longest onside kicks yet seen in the stadium.
Pena, utilized well as the Bobcats’ punter, appeared to be in punt-return rather than kickoff-return mode and watched the Bulldog boot settle before him, untouched, at the Ignacio 4, then saw the alert guest gain possession with nearly no resistance and 64 seconds still remaining in the third quarter.
Fittingly, Curtis then got four straight calls to carry the ball into the end zone, making the score 36-0 (before Chapman’s successful intrusion) with 11:11 left in the fourth.
“Some of the kids carrying the ball … it was kind of their first time!” said Sirko. “We’re really proud of our line … got two sophomores in the o-line and two other juniors, so they did a nice job up front.”
Able to briefly move via air – Weinreich was 8-of-17 for 79 yards – IHS’ attempts at progressing on land were usually stopped behind the line of scrimmage and the ’Cats finished with negative yardage.
“Everything had to go quick,” Garcia said. “So the adjustment was to quick curls, quick slants.”
“We wanted to work on the running game mostly,” agreed LaBarthe (3-45 receiving). But then after that…the short, quick passes seemed to work.”
“We were pretty strong on the pass,” Hall said. “It was hard to get the ball going when we had a run.”
“We still need to commit to the run game,” said McCaw (2-16 receiving). “Just got to work more in practice and get our timing down.”
Time for doing just that will be on Ignacio’s side; the Bobcats’ next game isn’t until Friday, Sept. 11 when they travel north to face No. 1-ranked, defending 1A State Champions Paonia at Paonia Town Park.
“We’ve got to try harder and work out the minor difficulties,” said LaBarthe. “And hopefully we’ll do our best. It just takes all of us to play.”
“It’s definitely going to be a situation where we need to focus and stick to the basics,” Hall agreed.
“This is a learning experience for us, for all of us – even the coaches,” Garcia said. “And we’re all learning what our needs are with the kids on the field, you know? Making them believe, that’s the thing that we need to do.”