Eagles sail into semis
PAONIA — Joel Simianer and Logan Schopp are so much alike on the football field, they even talk the same.
After Paonia’s 31-15 Class 1A state quarterfinal victory over Monte Vista on Saturday, Simianer and Schopp had the same response when asked how far this Eagles team can go.
“All the way,” both said.
The two juniors each scored a touchdown and dominated on defense for the Eagles.
Simianer caught a 21-yard touchdown pass from Taylor Walters for the go-ahead score midway through the third quarter, then Schopp took a handoff on a reverse and ran in from 5 yards out to seal the win.
“We play well together,” Schopp said. “If he’s not open, I’ll be open. If I’m not open, he will be.”
The Eagles scored on their opening possession for a 7-0 lead when Will Austin ran the final five yards.
Paonia lost two fumbles after that, with the second turnover leading to a one-yard touchdown plunge by Brenen Ramirez to tie the game 7-7 right before halftime.
“Our effort in the first half was just terrible, and we knew it,” Simianer said.
Monte Vista turned in a strong defensive effort in the first half.
“We felt like we had the momentum going into halftime,” Monte Vista coach Manny Wasinger said. “We were able to punch one in there late, and we seized the momentum. But Paonia took it right back with that long drive to open the third. They just wore us down.”
Paonia chewed up nearly half the third quarter with a 10-play drive that covered 69 yards and ended with Simianer’s touchdown reception. Gunnar Chesnik caught a pass from Walters and scored on the two-point conversion, putting Paonia ahead for good at 15-7.
The Eagles’ defense held Monte Vista to a three-and-out on its first possession of the second half after Simianer sacked Pirates quarterback Michael Sanchez.
“Defensively, we knew that Monte Vista’s bread and butter was: that bootleg pass play,” Simianer said. “We worked hard on defending that. That was a tough team. We just had to match their physicality.”
Paonia upped its lead to 18-7 early in the fourth quarter after Colby Simpson kicked a 23-yard field goal.
Six minutes later, the Eagles scored again, this time on Schopp’s reverse. Simpson’s kick was blocked, and Paonia led 24-7.
Monte Vista didn’t go away. Sanchez scored on a 50-yard scamper one minute later, then called his own number and ran in the two-point conversion to make the score 24-15.
Paonia recovered the ensuing onside kick, then drove 52 yards in five plays with the final TD coming on a 5-yard run by Austin.
Schopp, who like Simianer lines up at linebacker and defensive end, intercepted Sanchez on the Pirates’ final possession to secure the win.
“On defense our motto is to fly to the ball,” Schopp said. “I saw the pass get deflected, and I knew I’d be able to fly to the ball and make a play on it.”
Austin finished with a season-high 221 yards on 18 carries and two touchdowns. Walters ran for 57 yards, and Chesnik got 64 yards on the ground.
“We knew we had to come together as a family,” Paonia coach Brent McRae said. “We told the boys to find some fire and play with heart, and they were able to do that. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”