Super sophomores stoked
Paonia knows it must contain Buena Vista QB
It will be a matchup of talented sophomore quarterbacks when top-seeded Buena Visa (11-0) battles fourth-seeded Paonia (10-1) Saturday in the Class 1A semifinals.
For Paonia, Taylor Walters moved from tailback to QB about the midway point of the season. He’s been shredding opposing defenses all season and has more than 1,700 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns.
First-year Paonia coach Brent McRae said if the Eagles are going to pull off the upset, they will have to contain Buena Vista’s “big, fast and really good” sophomore quarterback Keegan Waltz.
Waltz has rushed for more than 1,200 yards and thrown for another 1,300 yards this season. He has 21 rushing TDs and 14 TD passes.
Buena Vista is looking to return to the Class 1A state title game this year after a tough 18-16 loss to Cedaredge last year. But this year’s team didn’t return a lot of its players from the 2012 team.
Coach Matt Flavin said he used the title game loss as motivation early for the Demons but as the season wore on, he focused on this year’s team.
“I talked about (last year’s) team early but I’ve really tried to emphasize that this is this year and let’s quit talking about last year. This is a different team,” he said.
Flavin is well aware of the explosiveness of Paonia’s running game including Walter’s dominating season. But the veteran coach said that the Eagles’ tailback Will Austin is a force, too.
“(Austin) is a load, he really scares me,” he said.
Austin, a 6-1, 185-pound senior, has rushed for more than 1,100 yards, averaging close to nine yards a carry.
McRae said their success is tied directly to their offensive and defensive lines.
“They’re a pretty tight group, and they take pride in getting the job done,” he said.
The Eagles have good size, including a pair of 240-pound linemen.
Defensively, the Eagles have recorded three shutouts and held another four teams to just one score.
Junior defensive end Logan Schopp and junior linebacker Gunnar Chesnik lead the team in tackles, and 240-pound senior Tony Darling has 15 tackles for losses.
The Eagles established themselves as a defensive power with back-to-back shutouts over playoff teams Hotchkiss and Cedaredge to end the regular season.
Led by two linebackers who have recorded a combined 269 tackles, Buena Vista also has a stout defense. Will Osborne, a 175-pound senior, and 170-pound junior Michael Wilcoxson have both averaged nearly 12 tackles a game.
McRae said that avoiding mistakes will be the key for the Eagles.
“We’re going to have to make plays, prevent penalties and prevent turnovers,” he said, adding that the Eagles have lost at least one fumble in every game this year.
Flavin said his team has “exceeded our expectations.” He says that they are a very athletic team and that the game will feature a pair of good running teams.
“We’re going to have to stop their running game if we want to win the game,” he said.
Even though the Demons rely heavily on Waltz, they have three other backs who have rushed for more than 496 yards.
With a relatively inexperienced team, Flavin said last year’s playoff run has helped the team.
“Last year did help because they got to be around those kids and see what it looks like to be a competitor,” he said.
For McRae, the formula is simple: Contain their young quarterback, avoid turnovers and use their explosive running attack to move the ball and find the end zone.
The team’s common opponents this season were Hotchkiss and Colorado Springs Christian. The Demons beat Hotchkiss 20-14 win in the second week and Colorado Springs Christian 52-20 to end the regular season. The Eagles beat their Delta County rival 21-0 in Week 8 and powered past Colorado Springs Christian 34-6 in the first round of the playoffs.
Saturday’s winner moves into the state title game against the winner of No. 2 Limon (11-0) and No. 3 Centauri (10-1).
Paonia’s lone loss was 27-13 to Centauri way back in Week 3.