Walters’ four TDs put Paonia in title game
Talk about a statement game.
Paonia High School’s 28-14 victory over Buena Vista on Saturday took place in the 2012 Class 1A runner-up’s stadium.
But it wasn’t just that sophomore quarterback Taylor Walters rushed for four touchdowns, or that senior running back Will Austin ran for more than 250 yards.
The Eagles set a tone for the Class 1A state final, their first trip since 1962, and it’s a rematch against Centauri. Paonia’s only loss this season was a 27-14 loss to the Falcons.
Paonia hosts Centauri, which topped Limon 21-8, for the Class 1A state title.
“We didn’t punt,” coach Brent McRae said of Saturday’s semifinal win.
Against the Demons, McRae said his offensive line was key in the Eagles’ dominating ball control. All of Walters’ scores came from inside 10 yards to cap long drives.
“They were dominant up front in a way that I hadn’t seen this year,” McRae said. “I’ve never doubted them, I know that when we need four yards they will get us four yards, but you just don’t expect them to dominate a team in the state semifinals.
“I think the best part of it is the bond they share. It’s a really special group, and they don’t need any praise or glory. They just work hard and want to win.”
McRae said the bond the linemen share has helped them on both sides of the ball. On top of blasting open holes for runners, the defensive line limited Buena Vista’s Keegan Wentz, someone McRae said is “the real deal.”
“I can’t believe we shut him down like we did,” McRae said. “We completely stopped him running the ball.”
Paonia linebacker Gunnar Chesnik also credited the line for allowing free movement in the backfield, something that gave the Eagles’ defense confidence.
“Our defensive line did a really good job and helped us linebackers,” Chesnik said. “We flowed through the backfield and were able to get manned up against their best players.”
With Paonia leading 14-0, Walters picked off a Demon pass in the end zone to halt a 12-play drive. Paonia never trailed, despite two touchdown tosses from Wentz to Andy McFarland. A 53-yard touchdown pass was Buena Vista’s longest play of the game.
With Paonia up 14-7, Buena Vista made a push after halftime to tie the game, but was stuffed on fourth down. Paonia faced a fourth down of its own, but Walters turned a fourth-and-goal into a touchdown by leaping over the pile. On Paonia’s next drive, Walters converted on yet another fourth-and-goal on a bootleg to put the Eagles up 28-7.
Buena Vista scored early in the fourth quarter, but Paonia forced the Demons into two more turnovers on downs.
For Chesnik in particular, the rematch against Centauri means a lot.
He said the entire team will be “amped up, but in control,” but that he was particularly eager to face the Falcons.
Chesnik was suspended for “protecting a teammate” during Paonia’s 47-25 win over Grand Valley, and he was forced to miss the Centauri game.
“We feel really good about this game,” Chesnik said.