Aug. 27—KEOKUK — John Hardin had one word to describe opening night for the Ottumwa High School football team.
In the end, Ottumwa spent more time in the locker room at Keokuk High School than on the field Friday at Calvert Stadium. Lightning extended halftime between the Bulldogs and Chiefs for three hours before the teams were able to take the field against shortly before midnight.
Shortly after midnight, late in the third quarter, lightning and rain returned to Keokuk forcing the teams off the field again. This time, Ottumwa loaded up the buses and returned home as the game was scheduled to resume on Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m.
Ottumwa, however, would not be returning to Keokuk. Both teams agreed that the final result would stand with Keokuk winning 23-8 having built the lead midway through the third quarter shortly before scattered thunderstorms moved through the area for the second time.
"I knew we were going to go back out there. You could hear the athletic directors talking from the locker room about wanting to get this game done tonight," Hardin said. "I was pretty tough. We were all anxious to get back on the field. Everyone was waiting for the rain to go away and continuing to check the radar."
Ottumwa's first half of the football season was a shaky one. Despite battling yard for yard throughout the first 24 minutes, the Bulldogs failed to match the Chiefs on the scoreboard as junior quarterback Brenton Hoard continued to be a thorn in the throwing a one-yard touchdown pass to Diego Garcia in the first half while keeping the ball for a five-yard touchdown run giving the Chiefs a 14-0 lead.
"Once we get our offense rolling, we'll do fine (this season)," Hardin said. "We just have to say really low on the flags and the errors. Everyone was probably a little nervous and a little anxious to be out there."
In his first start at quarterback, Matt Mitchell gained 28 yards on 10 carries scoring Ottumwa's only touchdown of the night as Ottumwa cut Keokuk's lead down to 14-8 in the second quarter. Hoard, however, countered by gaining 156 yards on 14 carries for the Chiefs while completing eight of 12 passes for 92 yards.
"Our zone dive was working really good. Our belly was working good," Mitchell said of Ottumwa's first half offensively this season. "We just needed get our line going off the ball. We'll figure it out during the week once we get to practice."
Keokuk was able to extend their lead to 17-8 by the half on a 26-yard field goal by Cooper Abfalter-Dial. As the first half came to a close, lightning moved through the area forcing both teams to remain in the locker room as several strikes over several hours left players wondering when or if the second half would begin.
"I can't remember when I started playing football, but I definitely don't remember a night of football like this," Mitchell said. "I remember we had a delay at Burlington once, but that was only about 30 minutes. We were just trying to get pumped up and ready to play again, but it was tough after you've been sitting around for over two hours."
Once the teams returned to the field, officially kicking off the second half shortly after midnight, Keokuk was able to take the opening possession down the field with Hoard gaining 42 yards on five carries during an eight-play, 51-yard drive. Malachai Douglas carried the ball in from a yard out to close the drive, giving the Chiefs a 15-point lead.
Ottumwa went to the ground in hopes of getting that touchdown back. Cameron Manary gained 16 more yards on three more carries, giving the Bulldog junior 118 rushing yards on 11 carries in the season opener, while Mitchell picked up 15 yards on a carry inside the Keokuk 35 to get Ottumwa on the move.
The Bulldogs, however, stalled inside the Keokuk 30 giving the Chiefs the ball back. Hoard carried for 15 more yards to move the back out near midfield before another lightning strike sent the teams back into the locker room for the final time.
"We just need to come out with a better mentality next time," Mitchell said. "There are things I need to work on. We'll get back to work on fixing those things up so we can be better next time."
Ottumwa (0-1) will look to bounce back at home against Des Moines Roosevelt this Friday. Varsity action kicks off approximately at 7:30 p.m.
— Scott Jackson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.