Paonia goes for the 3-peat on Saturday at 1 p.m. in Buena Vista. The matchup seemed fated from the very beginning of the season.
Paonia was No. 1 and the Demons were ranked No. 2 until the Eagles lost to 2A Bayfield (currently No. 1 in 2A and playing for the state title on Saturday as well) in Week 4. Then Buena Vista assumed the No. 1 ranking and has held it since then.
Paonia beat No. 2 Resurrection Christian 21-15 last week to set up the rematch of last year's 1A state title game, which the Eagles won in Paonia 21-7.
Clearly the Demons (12-0) and Eagles (11-1) have been 1A's best two teams all season. It is fitting that they will play for all the marbles on Saturday.
"When you have programs as successful as Paonia and Buena Vista, you don't really expect much to change," Paonia coach Brent McRae said. "You do what got you there, and I won't expect anything different. They'll probably run the same type of offense and defense. I expect them to make some tweaks here and there, but we're just going to let the kids play and see who wins."
Buena Vista breezed through the other side of the 1A playoff bracket, beating Centauri, Wiggins and Crowley County by a combined score of 140-12.
In the semifinal against Crowley County, Keenan Barr scored three times (once on defense) and quarterback Keegan Wentz scored two touchdowns to pace the Demons.
Demons coach Matt Flavin leads a veteran group that is due. In 2012 Buena Vista lost in the 1A finals to Cedaredge 18-16. The next year it fell in the semis, losing at home 28-14 to Paonia. Then last year the Demons were once again runner-up, this time after a 21-7 defeat at Paonia.
Three seasons of falling just short is going to make the Demons a very hungry team on Saturday.
Facing them is an Eagles team that has done it before and is peaking at just the right time.
Jeramiah Hillman put together his best game as an Eagle in the semifinal against Resurrection Christian, scoring once and snaring two interceptions to lead the defense.
Cyrus Malek-Madani leads the team in tackles, and fellow sophomore Jaden Miller is a force at the linebacker position. Junior Trevor Smith is making the most of his first real chance to shine in the playoffs, making key plays on offense and defense.
There's a long list of Eagles who are unsung heroes: Dagan Rienks, Colby Simpson, Willy Darling, Warren Minerich and Trevor Plymale all have contributed in key moments during the playoffs. Newcomer KJ Seriani announced his presence with the biggest catch of the day against the Cougars, a 45-yard bomb that set up the winning score.
Then of course there's Taylor Walters, the 1A Player of the Year. Walters moved into fifth all-time in touchdowns scored and became the 15th leading rusher in Colorado history after the first round of the playoffs, but he's not thinking about personal records.
"It's more just thinking about winning another state championship with my team and just enjoying my last bit of high school with all these guys," Walters said after the first round of the playoffs.
The state championship matchup was hatched a year ago, and the rematch on Saturday has potential to make history. The Eagles and their fans will get one more game in this incredible run, and on this Thanksgiving weekend there is much to be thankful for.