Hotchkiss, Paonia streak into 1A playoffs

Hotchkiss didn’t hesitate to make its mark at the Class 1A level.

After dropping down from 2A this season, the Bulldogs cruised to a 8-1 record and a Class 1A Western Slope Conference championship.

“The players really gained a lot of confidence in each other,” Hotchkiss coach Zach Lemon said. “Our timing has gotten better and progressively improved.”

Led by a group of seniors, running back Ethan Coe, linemen Michael Beard and Paul Manzella, linebacker Jake Peterson and receivers Cody Richards and JJ Baer, the Bulldogs went undefeated in the conference and earned the No. 4 seed in the playoffs, setting up a matchup Saturday with Holyoke.

“We have a very strong senior class,” Lemon said. “They keep everyone together and are the guys we can count on to make plays and be leaders on the field.”

Hotchkiss had only one stumble this season when it lost to Aspen 34-20 in the third game of the season. Lemon said that was the turning point of the season, propelling the Bulldogs to six straight wins to finish the year.

“The way we fought in that loss and had a chance to come back and win,” Lemon said. “That was a turning point.”

After that loss, Hotchkiss cruised through the conference scoring more than 40 points in its final five games and allowing only an average of eight points per game. The Bulldogs have developed a
winner’s attitude.

“We do what we do and when we are playing at our best, we feel like nobody can beat us,” Lemon said.

Now the Bulldogs enter uncharted territory, playing in their first playoff game under Lemon. The second-year coach said his team is excited for the opportunity.

“They are excited, we could see it when we were waiting for the brackets to come out,” Lemon said. “It is not pressure, but excitement.”

Kickoff is at 1 p.m. on Saturday against the team from the North Central Conference. Holyoke finished 6-3 in a conference that includes the No. 6 (Wray), No. 5 (Yuma) and No. 1 (Akron) seeds in the playoffs.

“We don’t know a lot about them,” Lemon said. “They play in a tough conference and there were points where there were four teams ranked in the top 10.”

The other area 1A team in the postseason is Paonia, which finished second in the WSC and earned the No. 10 seed. The Eagles travel to Lyons for a 1 p.m. game Saturday. The Eagles qualified for the playoffs in Craig Cerise’s first year as coach. Paonia survived a tough three-game stretch in which they lost to Grand Valley, Basalt and Hotchkiss to win its final four games of the year.

The Eagles will attempt to knock off the Lions with the potent running attack of Lukas Wiggins, Jordan Van Vleet and Josh Burns.


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