The Dodge City Conquistadors football team opened the season with loss as the Independence Pirates rolled to a 38-20 win over Dodge City Thursday night.

Special teams issues haunted the Conquistadors throughout.

After the Pirates took a 3-0 lead on an early field goal, the Conquistadors fumbled the succeeding kickoff around the 20, but held Independence to a turnover on downs.

It was the first of four times the team fumbled, and the first of two they lost. The Pirates also fumbled twice, but maintained possession both times.

Ultimately, Conquistador head coach Gary Thomas said the game came down to five or six plays in which the game was decided.

“Take the offense out of it, and how they played, not that there’s not a lot to improve, but take them out of the equation,” Thomas said. “Just take special teams and defense. Our first four punts, one’s returned for a touchdown, and the other two we get bad snaps and give them the ball on the 10-yard line.”

After Independence got the ball to start the game, the Conquistadors took a kick, but freshman wide receiver Terrell Warner fumbled the ball on the return.

“Take five snaps: Take the kickoff return at the beginning, take the two punts where we get a bad snap, take the second play of the game,” Thomas said. “We know they’re gonna run zone-read, we run zone-read, we ran zone-read today, and they run it for 65 yards. We’ve practiced that so many times. You get a guy out of position and it goes down the pipe. That obviously sets up a score.”

With 3:16 left in the first quarter, the Pirates got on the ground via a 13-yard run to go up 10-0. The Conquistadors answered with a 51-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Drew Harris to sophomore wide receiver Tyrice Richie, cutting the lead to 10-7.

It was one of just two passes Harris completed on two attempts for 62 yards in the first half. The Conquistadors switched intermittently between Harris and freshman John Lux. Lux went 7 of 13 with 69 yards and one interception. Harris finished 10-17 with 128 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions.

“John’s the guy that makes the least amount of mistakes,” Thomas said. “He’s comfortable in there. Obviously you can see that Drew can do some things with his feet that a lot of guys can’t do. He’s got a unique skill set. We did not do a very good job protecting either one of ‘em today, but the reason I went with Drew in the second half was to get him experience, because when he makes mistakes he makes really bad mistakes, and so we’ve got to get him comfortable in those situations.”

In the second quarter, the Pirates pulled the Conqs apart through the air. Hildreth finished the first half 10-14 with two touchdowns and 83 yards.

He finished the game with 16 completions on 26 attempts, 201 yards and three touchdowns.

The Conqs next take on Garden City at 7 p.m. Sept. 1. That game takes place in Garden City.