Led by Walters and defense, Paonia tops Colorado Springs Christian
PAONIA — The Paonia High School football team advanced to the Class 1A state quarterfinals with a 34-6 opening-round victory over Colorado Springs Christian on Saturday afternoon.
The fourth-seeded Eagles (9-1) got off to a quick start when senior Will Austin scored on the team’s second possession. Austin ran untouched off right tackle for a 6-yard touchdown, and Colby Simpson’s extra-point kick made it 7-0.
From there, it got more difficult for the Eagles. The Lions (6-4) had two long drives in the first half, one of 14 plays and the other of 15 plays, but they came away with no points.
“That hurt us,” Colorado Springs Christian coach Jay Kersey said. “I would have liked to come away with some points there. That would have given us confidence going into halftime, but credit Paonia. That’s a good ballclub. They’re gonna go far. That coaching staff does a great job.”
Paonia upped its lead to 14-0 going into halftime when Taylor Walters connected with Joel Simianer on a 54-yard touchdown pass. Even with the lead, the Eagles didn’t feel comfortable against the physical Lions.
“You could tell in the first half for sure we had some nerves,” Paonia coach Brent McRae said. “We were definitely on our heels. We didn’t know what to expect. We were thinking too much, we weren’t playing. Once we took care of that at halftime, you could tell there was a big difference.”
Paonia reeled off an 80-yard, seven-play drive that ended with Walters turning a fourth-down counter play into a 30-yard touchdown scamper for the only scoring play of the third quarter.
The Eagles took command and made it 28-0 in the fourth quarter. Walters ran for a 10-yard score, and Simpson kicked his fourth PAT.
Colorado Springs Christian finally got on the scoreboard, ending Paonia’s streak of scoreless defensive play at 11 quarters when freshman quarterback Justin Engesser found Luke Harrison on a 27-yard touchdown pass.
Paonia answered back with Jeremiah Hillman’s 37-yard touchdown burst right up the middle to complete the scoring.
Walters finished with 126 rushing yards and two touchdowns. He only connected on two passes, but one of them was the 54-yard touchdown to Simianer. Austin finished with 88 yards on the ground.
Paonia won its second playoff game in four years behind another dominant defensive effort. Senior Tony Darling had one of Paonia’s two interceptions, coming after an athletic play behind the line in which Darling reached up and snared Engesser’s pass.
“Just in the right place at the right time, I guess,” said Darling, who also had eight tackles.
Gunnar Chesnik finished with nine tackles, and linebacker Chase Park was in on numerous stops.
“We just went back to the basics on defense,” McRae said. “That was the difference in the second half.”
Paonia hosts fifth-seeded Monte Vista this week. The Pirates beat Cedaredge 20-7 on Saturday afternoon.
Austin said there is a lesson to take from Saturday’s win.
“Don’t take the little things for granted,” he said. “Today was a tough win, but it was still a win. We can’t get too down on ourselves because maybe we didn’t play our best game.”