The football team from Paonia High School saved its best game of the year for the first round of the playoffs.
The Eagles dominated from the opening kickoff until the end of the running clock and crushed perennial rival Buena Vista 51-6 last Friday night at Paonia Town Park.
The game marked the fourth year in a row that the Eagles and Demons met in the playoffs and brought Paonia's mark in those games to 3-1.
For Paonia (9-1), the win avenged a 27-20 defeat in the 1A state title game last year.
"We thought we were going to win," Eagles defensive end and running back Jaden Miller said. "It was Buena Vista, so we figured redemption. We were going to do whatever we had to."
The visiting Demons (6-4) did not resemble the state champions from last year and had a roster full of underclassmen. The senior-laden Eagles used their experience and superior athletic ability to control the game from the start.
Paonia took the opening kickoff down the field for a score in an opening drive that was sustained by two third-down conversions.
"I think we stepped it up on offense," Miller said after rushing for 91 yards in the contest. "Our line was starting to block a lot better. We really showed that we can capitalize on some big plays out there."
Trevor Smith's five-yard touchdown run opened the Paonia barrage. Then quarterback Dagan Rienks ran in a 17-yard TD on a nifty option play and the Eagles jumped ahead 14-0.
Jesse Burns capped a long drive midway through the second quarter with a three-yard score and Paonia led 21-0. Smith made it 28-0 with his 19-yard score with a little over a minute left in the second quarter.
The Eagles forced a turnover on the ensuing kickoff and Rienks connected with Smith on a four-yard touchdown pass that made the score 35-0 at halftime.
Five touchdowns in one half went along with a stifling defensive effort that saw the Eagles hold the Demons to one completion and four passing yards all game.
"We figured they were going to pass because that's been our weakest spot all year," Miller said. "So that's what we worked on a lot in practice."
Smith blocked Buena Vista's punt to open the second half and it was recovered by the Demons punter in the end zone for a safety.
The Demons got on the board with a fumble recovery and a 45-yard touchdown run from Hayden McGinnis that made the score 37-6.
Paonia got it back and Rienks found a wide open Smith for a 55-yard touchdown pass. After that it was Cyrus Malek-Madani who got into the act and ran one to the house for a two-yard score and a running clock.
"It was awesome," Miller said. "We kind of had a chip on our shoulder, so we felt pretty good about it."
Seniors like Rienks and Smith and Colby Simpson led the Eagles to the big win over Buena Vista, giving juniors like Miller and Malek-Madani something to look forward to next season.
"They set a good example for us and they lead us really well," Miller said about the 11 seniors on the Eagles roster. "We just have to take notes on how they're doing it and then do it next year."
Paonia will host Burlington in its second playoff game on Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. at Paonia Town Park. Paonia handled Burlington in a pretty easy victory last year in the playoffs.
"We got to focus on this week and just take it one week at a time," Miller said. "We can't get ahead of ourselves yet."