The Paonia High School football team is headed to the playoffs for the fourth year in a row and will face a familiar foe when the 1A state tournament kicks off this weekend.
The Eagles beat Grand Valley 42-8 at Paonia Town Park last Friday night, finishing the regular season 8-1. Paonia compiled a 4-1 record in the 1A Western Slope Conference, good for second place.
The rout over the Cardinals was a bounce-back win for the Eagles after falling two weeks ago 12-7 at Meeker, Paonia's first loss in the conference in four years.
The Eagles got back to their winning ways against a quality Grand Valley team that also made the playoffs.
"I thought it was a good game for us especially coming out after a loss. That was huge," Paonia head coach Brent McRae said. "Grand Valley had some real nice players that played hard. We were just fortunate enough to make some plays early and get a big lead."
Quarterback Dagan Rienks, one of 11 Paonia seniors honored at the game, finished 6 for 12 passing with 194 yards, including two touchdown throws. Backup Caden Meilner threw one pass for a 20-yard touchdown.
"It was good for the kids," McRae said. "Coming back from losses is always tough, so it was good for us to get on the field and execute well and play hard and then come out and get a victory again. It was awesome."
Senior Trevor Smith had four catches for 112 yards and a long score against the Cardinals, and Anthony Felice collected two passes for 74 yards and two touchdowns for the Eagles.
Jaden Miller had nine rushes to lead the Eagles with 83 yards on the ground and Sackett Chesnik totaled 61 yards, also off nine rushes.
Defensively, Miller led the Eagles with six tackles and one sack. Jesse Burns had a strong game with five tackles. Senior Warren Minerich had a sack and Cyrus Malek-Madani sacked Grand Valley's elusive quarterback Jeff Holbrook twice.
Rienks, Smith, Minerich and the rest of the seniors got a lot of playing time in their final regular season home game.
Gabe Ferguson, Alex Lozano, Jordan Long, Garrett Beck, Blake Benson, Alex Sanchez, Justin Peterson and Colby Simpson formed the rest of Paonia's senior class.
"This is my first group of seniors that we've had since they were freshmen, so that added a little bit more to the evening," McRae said. "It was a little more special for a lot of us."
These seniors played in the 1A state title game every year they've been at Paonia. They'll go for their fourth starting this weekend after earning the No. 3 seed in the 16-team tournament field.
The Eagles will face No. 14 seed Buena Vista in the first round this weekend at Paonia Town Park. Game time is set for 7 p.m. this Friday, Nov. 4.
The Eagles and Demons met in the playoffs in each of the last three years. Paonia beat them in the semifinals (2013) and final (2014), then lost 27-20 in the final at Buena Vista last year.
"It was a little surprise that we'll have to play them again so soon," McRae said. "It brought back some memories from playoffs past. Each year we've battled up so it will probably be another one of those games where it will come down to a few plays."
Both teams are vastly different from the ones that met for the 1A state title almost one year ago.
"We'll have to be very, very disciplined with them because they run their system so well and they're coached so well," McRae said. "We'll have to be ready for them."