Saturday's convincing 47-7 win over Burlington puts the two-time defending state champion Paonia Eagles in the semifinal game at Loveland next Saturday, where they will face the team they defeated to win last year's title.
Saturday's game against the sixth-seeded Cougars wasn't predicted to be a runaway. "I thought it would be just a hair closer," said head coach Brent McRae. "They had a great team, they have a great coaching staff. It's just that some (Eagles) made big plays. The only time you're going to get a big win like that is if you make big, long plays, and that's just what happened."
Senior quarterback/running back Taylor Walters ran for 232 yards and five touchdowns and passed for 26 yards and one touchdown, beginning with a 1-yard run that capped an 80-yard, 11-play opening drive.
On their first possession the Cougars were inside Eagle territory when Tyler Dennison recovered a fumble. Nine plays later, Walters scrambled for another touchdown with 7.1 seconds remaining in the period. "That helped a lot," said McRae, "because they were driving down on us and we weren't stopping them."
Burlington's only touchdown came early in the second quarter when leading receiver Jett County outmaneuvered the secondary at mid-field and broke loose for a touchdown.
On the ensuing drive, Walters took advantage of a block by Cyrus Malek-Madani to gain 60 yards and put the Eagles inside the 10-yard line. Paonia lost 10 yards on a penalty and took a time out.
Upon returning to the field, Dagan Rienks snagged a Walters pass in the end zone for a 20-7 lead with 7:47 remaining in the half.
Walters scrambled through the defensive line from inside the 5-yard line with 2:24 remaining in the half for a 26-7 lead. With 25 seconds on the clock the Eagles got the ball inside the 10 on a 60-yard pass play from Walters to Kayden Seriani.
Walters then scored on an 8-yard carry, with Colby Simpson's PAT giving Paonia a 33-7 halftime lead.
A pitch from Rienks at quarterback to Walters resulted in a 28-yard score in the third quarter, and with 1:29 remaining, Trevor Plymale was tackled on a 12-yard carry, stretching across the goal line for the score.
McRae gave credit to the seven-member O-line which paved the way for 473 rushing yards, including 159 yards by senior Jeramiah Hillman. "They did awesome," said McRae. "Up front our line just kept wearing them down, I think that was the biggest thing."
The defense held Burlington to 153 passing yards and 92 yards on the ground, with Jaden Miller, Willy Darling and Denison combining for four sacks.
Paonia will face Resurrection Christian (11-0, 6-0 1A Metro League) at Loveland Saturday.
The Cougars advance on a 48-6 win at Meeker and are the only undefeated team in the state playoff bracket. Paonia is no stranger to the No. 1-seeded team, after defeating them at home in last year's state title game, 35-15.
"Defense is going to have to work on some stuff," said McRae. On offense, "we're going to have to take care of the ball."