Hotchkiss, Paonia prepped for important rivalry game
The towns are separated by nine miles, and in the Class 1A Western Slope Conference standings, the teams are one game apart.
Paonia (4-3, 3-0), which has a four-game winning streak and is coming off a 52-0 win over Lake County, suddenly is a threat in the conference.
No. 7 Hotchkiss (5-2, 2-1) has only a pair of close losses on its record to No. 1 Buena Vista and No. 5 Cedaredge.
The Paonia-Hotchkiss rivalry is ripe once again for the teams’ 7 p.m. game today at Paonia.
The game also features prolific running backs Jacobe Galley of Hotchkiss (1,267 yards rushing, 15 touchdowns) and Will Austin of Paonia, who has 625 yards rushing with nine TDs. Austin had nine carries for 144 yards against Lake County.
“They’re playing well right now,” Hotchkiss coach Zac Lemon said. “They’re winning games playing together, taking care of the ball, and they’re always a physical team. It’s a big rivalry game, so, of course, it’s gonna be good.”
And Paonia has found a new weapon: Its kicker also can run the ball. Ahead 40-0 in the fourth quarter against Lake County, Paonia coach Scott Rienks put Jorge Quinones in at running back. Rienks said Quinones, also a wrestler in Paonia’s prestigious varsity program, had never played football before this season.
Quinones’ first touch went 26 yards for a touchdown.
“To be honest, I figured he’d get tackled,” Rienks said. “He had good moves.”
Rienks said he’s seen Quinones kick 50-yard field goals in practice.
Even that part of the game is coming together for Paonia.
“We’re feeling better right now,” Rienks said. “We’re figuring things out, and a lot of that is me simplifying the offense a little bit.”
And now, here comes Hotchkiss.
“Hotchkiss has got the best player in the league,” Rienks said of Galley, “and I talked to the Lake County coach (Friday) night, and he was saying we beat them up worse than Hotchkiss did the week before, physically.”
But Rienks said Hotchkiss will have a decided speed advantage, led by Galley.
Back in SWC title race
The Grand Junction Tigers were granted new life in the Southwestern Conference last week when Montrose knocked off Fruita Monument, 28-25.
That’s where any appreciation for Montrose’s efforts ends.
Grand Junction, No. 13 in Class 5A, plays at Montrose, No. 19 in Class 4A, at 7 p.m. today.
“The next two weeks we’ll fine-tune ourselves for playoffs,” Tigers coach Robbie Owens said. “And the Montrose game being on the road in a hostile environment, on a grass field, will give it a playoff atmosphere, and that will help.”
Owens said the Tigers (5-2, 1-1 SWC) had been playing down to their competition before a 49-10 win over Durango last week.
Montrose (4-3, 1-1) is led by running back Angelo Youngren and his 1,163 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Tigers getting healthy
The Tigers finally return two crucial cogs to their offense and defense: defensive end and fullback Theron Verna, who has healed from an early-season fractured fibula, and tight end and defensive end Austin Berk, who will play with a brace covering his left elbow. Berk has healed from a torn ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow.
Verna won’t be on the field 100 percent of the time, Owens said.
“Theron brings a physical aspect to our backfield,” Owens said, “and defensively he’s the most technically sound kid we have.”
The CSU-bound Berk missed the Tigers’ win over Durango.
“It sucked bad just watching,” Berk said. “We’re just looking to come out and play well like we should.”