Darling a disruptive force in Paonia’s win in state title game

PAONIA — Tony Darling is a big man who made big plays on Saturday.

At 240 pounds, Darling took on the role as wrecking ball in Paonia’s 32-24 win over Centauri in the Class 1A state football championship game.

The defensive lineman was constantly bursting into the Falcons’ backfield, plowing over the quarterback and leveling running backs.

On a key fourth down, Darling wasn’t about to be fooled a second time on a pitch play.

A Centauri back took a late pitch and Darling decked him for a loss of 4 yards.

“I saw that play earlier in the game, then they did it again, and I was smart about it and got the guy,” he said.

Later in the fourth, he pressured the quarterback and it resulted in an interception by Joel Simianer.

Darling came up big on defense through most of the second half but he also played a huge role as the kickoff guy for the Eagles.

Not many teams have a 240-pound straight-on kicker they can call a weapon but that’s what Darling is for the Eagles.

Three of his kickoffs were drilled near the goal line and the returner was tackled inside the 15. Another resulted in a touchback.

Playing, hard, physical football in the state title game was no big deal for Darling.

“I had nothing to lose in my last game,” he said.

Now the senior will shift his attention to wrestling, where the Eagles are favorites to win another state title. There are six football players who placed in last year’s state wrestling tournament.

Last year Darling finished with a silver medal in the heavyweight division.

After his big game in Saturday’s title game, Darling is focused on bringing more hardware back to the Paonia trophy case.


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