Burlington proves too much for short-handed Hotchkiss
HOTCHKISS — Seniors urged the Hotchkiss High School underclassmen to get the job done next year.
Then the entire Bulldog football team did its “1-2-3 Bulldogs!” cheer for the final time this season Saturday, and the players serenaded the hometown faithful with the school fight song, tapping on their battered helmets to keep the beat.
The Hotchkiss crowd greeted their players with open arms and warm embraces — encouraging, supportive and proud, as always.
It was a heartbreaking end to a good season for sixth-seeded Hotchkiss, which fell behind early and lost to Burlington 27-7 in the first round of the Class 1A playoffs. Playing with their usual determination and tenacity but minus two of their top players, the Bulldogs were no match for the No. 11-seeded Cougars.
With his No. 60 jersey soaked with sweat, and blood still trickling from his nostrils, senior Caleb Schelle hugged players who have been his teammates for four years. He hugged the coaches who have mentored him for his four years.
His eyes were filled with sadness that his high school football career is over, but his words were encouraging to underclassmen to keep being Bulldogs to the end.
“Being part of this program has been a lot of fun. I’ve made a lot of friends since I was a freshman. It’s sad being a senior and leaving the team,” he said.
Hotchkiss played without its starting quarterback, Devan Rupe, and leading rusher, Alex Smith. Concussions sidelined both juniors.
“In 1A football, depth is always a key, and the guys who played stepped up and played great,” Bulldogs coach Zac Lemon said. “Everybody did a great job filling in, but there’s not the cohesion when you have other guys filling in. I’m so proud of the guys who stepped in, but that’s hard to overcome.”
The tide of the game was slow to turn, with Hotchkiss playing tough defense and moving the ball on offense in the first quarter.
The Cougars took a 7-0 lead on a 58-yard run by Martin Torres.
In what could have been a matchup of quick, shifty, hard-running junior running backs, Burlington leaned on Torres, as Smith, who rushed for more than 900 yards and 12 TDs on the season, watched helplessly from the sidelines.
Without the elusive and speedy Smith in the backfield, the Bulldogs turned to a pair of big, power backs. River Panish and Duncan Turnbull took turns carrying the ball in an 11-play drive after Burlington took the lead. But just when it looked like the Bulldogs would answer Burlington’s opening score, a fumble gave the ball back to the Cougars at the 10-yard line.
Burlington then went 90 yards to take a 13-0 lead.
The Hotchkiss defense came through again when Hank Edwards intercepted a pass.
But the school 400 miles to the east took control for the rest of the half. With big runs from Torres, the Cougars bumped the lead to 21-0 when he plowed in from the 2-yard line.
Panish and Turnbull were effective, rushing for 102 and 56 yards, respectively, but as the game wore on, it was evident the Bulldogs didn’t have enough answers or enough diversity in their offense to keep up with Burlington.
“We had a couple of injuries, and we had people step up, but we were playing an outstanding team,” Schelle said. “It was like playing a mirror: same offense, same defense.”
Running a variety of dives, counters and traps, the Cougars’ running game dominated. Torres finished with 210 yards on 19 carries, and Eloy Sandoval added another 102 yards rushing.
Tanner Bizer, who had seen little time at quarterback in his career, played well at times but was under heavy pressure throughout when he tried to throw. In the third quarter, he hooked up with fellow senior Chris Allen on a 32-yard scoring strike to get the Bulldogs on the scoreboard.
“We did go through some adversity, losing a quarterback who was in there for most of the season, who’s a leader,” Bizer said. “I tried to step in there and do as good a job as I could. We just stayed together. It’s our motto: Champions and brotherhood.”
Senior Jason Padilla had an interception in the third quarter for the Bulldogs, but the Burlington defense kept Hotchkiss from breaking any long plays.
The Bulldogs made it to the semifinals the past three seasons, including a loss to Burlington two years ago. Lemon said Saturday’s loss was one of the tougher ones in his career.
“I did tell the boys that this one was one of the hardest,” he said. “Every team is different, and it’s always hard. But I wanted them to have more success than this because they really deserved it.”
Panish said it was a pleasure playing with the seniors.
“I love these boys,” he said about the seniors. “They were leaders, definitely. I’m damn proud of all of them.”
Many of the seniors lingered on the field, not ready to depart and pull the red and white off for the last time. Spending time with family, friends, classmates, they were consoled and congratulated.
Slowly, they made their way to the locker room, their high school careers over. It’s not the way they wanted it to end, but they battled like Bulldogs.