As a team, Paonia gets the job done
PAONIA — Taylor Walters is a superstar, no doubt. He puts the super in super sophomore.
Just like everyone else on the Paonia Eagles football team, he has a job to do. Actually, they all have a bunch of jobs to do.
So when Walters didn’t do his job on defense Saturday and Centauri completed a pass, assistant coach Eric McRae let the superstar have it with both barrels.
“Do your job!” he screamed, with a colorful word inserted.
Walters nodded his head and hustled back to the huddle.
The Eagles were in trouble, trailing 12-6 and Centauri was driving with four minutes left in the second quarter. Another score and this game might have been a sad one for the Paonia faithful.
“Everybody has a job to do on defense and that’s the only way it works. Everybody has to do their job,” McRae said.
Walters wasn’t happy about the verbal beat-down.
“I was fired up, I was (upset),” Walters said. “I didn’t get to the flat and (McRae) said I could have had an interception if I would have done my job.”
Two plays after McRae ripped the superstar, the superstar did his job.
It was the exact same play to the other side of the field. This time, Walters busted his butt to get the flat, timed it perfectly, and the rest is Class 1A football history.
It was the turning point of the game.
Walters returned the interception 52 yards for a touchdown to give the Eagles a 13-12 lead. They never trailed again.
It takes a special team with special players to win a state title. The Eagles did all the little things, big things and the superstars, big men, little men and unsung heroes were all heroic in the 32-24 win.
In a blue-collar town like Paonia where coal mining and farming still rule, it was a workman-like effort filled with hard-hitting football and big plays.
Everybody did their job.
Walters was extra special, rushing for 118 yards on 19 carries with a 58-yard TD. He also threw for two touchdowns and intercepted two passes. Superstar!
But it takes more than one superstar to win the gold football.
Senior Ty Coats, who had been anchored to the sidelines since Walters took over, started the second half at quarterback, with Walters moving to tailback.
Coats came up big with a huge third-down competition to Gunnar Chesnik for a gain of 16 in the third.
“Gunnar doesn’t have the best hands, but he caught it,” Coats said with a smile.
Chesnik agreed, laughing.
“They never pass to me. They usually are scared to throw to me, but I caught it today,” he said.
Big play in a big game. That’s what it takes to win a state title.
With members of the 1959 Paonia state title team looking on, the Eagles kept getting the job done.
Chesnik made a special play on special teams when he busted through and blocked a punt late in the second.
Paonia didn’t throw much and the Eagles only had three competitions, but every catch made a difference in the game.
Walters had two completions — both for TDs. His first came right after the punt block. It was a high-arching toss that floated like a rocket-propelled butterfly that nested into the hands of Josh Altman in the end zone for a 37-yard score.
Altman then had another job to do when Logan Schopp grabbed a fourth-down pass in the middle of the field . The big tight end snatched the pass, cut to his left behind a perfect screen block by Altman and scampered in from 29 yards out.
Getting the job done, that’s what the Eagles did.
Doing their job and playing hard on every play — cliché? Sure. Simple formula for success? Definitely.
Senior Will Austin ran for 15 carries for 101 yards. As he mingled with family, friends, teammates and classmates on the field, he looked a little dazed.
He was finding it hard to believe that his Eagles just won the state title.
“I’m so happy but I’m so sad that the season is over,” Austin said. “I’m so thankful for this team.”
As they celebrated, many players looked stunned at what they just accomplished.
After going 4-5 last year, the Eagles finished 12-1 and now have a football trophy to go with all the other hardware in the school’s trophy case.
As that gold ball was handed to Walters, he called for the seniors to take it from him. Many of those seniors helped Walters do his job better as the season progressed.
“They’re amazing,” he said. “They pick us up when we’re down, they’re just amazing athletes for our school.”
Superstars, big men small men, unsung heroes and a team of Eagles.
They all got the job done.
Now that he’s won a state title, what does the super sophomore do for an encore?
Walters just smiles, he too looking a little dazed. The future isn’t important, the present is all that mattered Saturday.
“I’m just celebrating this right now,” he said. “I don’t have the words to describe it.”
Everybody had a job to do and they got the job done.
Paonia Eagles, Class 1A state champions.
It took a team of superstars to get it done.