The North Fork Bowl trophy will remain at Paonia High School for a fifth consecutive year after the Eagles defeated rival Hotchkiss Friday night by a score of 28-21.
Eagles quarterback Caden Meilner had one of his best nights of the season, completing six of seven passes for 127 yards and one touchdown, running for two touchdowns, and going four-for-four in PATs.
The Eagles opened with a 61-yard scoring drive. Meilner connected with Jaden Miller at the Hotchkiss 27, setting up a two-yard touchdown run by Meilner with 5:04 remaining in the quarter.
The Bulldogs were forced to punt on their first two possessions. On Paonia's second possession, Hotchkiss stripped the ball and took possession at its own 34-yard line. Quarterback Yahir Chavez connected with Braxton Trujillo for 36 yards, and Jace Peebles made a three-yard carry to end the quarter.
Chavez connected with Colton Peebles at the Paonia five-yard line to open the second quarter, and Devin Curtis ran for a TD with 10:49 left on the clock. Kaiya Firor missed the PAT and Hotchkiss trailed, 7-6.
On its next possession Paonia capped a 61-yard drive on a two-yard TD run by Miller.
Hotchkiss answered with a 55-yard drive capped by a TD run by Colton Peebles on fourth and inches.
On the two-point conversion attempt, Jace Peebles ran wide and right past the Paonia secondary to tie the game at 14-14 with 22 seconds remaining in the opening half.
Paonia opened the second half with a turnover. At the Paonia 14, Jace Peebles was stripped of the ball by Paonia linebacker Clay Campbell, who returned the ball to the Paonia 38-yard line. The Eagles capped a long drive with a four-yard touchdown carry by Meilner, and took a 21-14 lead with 3:02 remaining in the third period.
The game came down to turnovers. The Bulldogs tied the game at 21-21 early in the fourth on a 57-yard pass play from Chavez to Trujillo following an interception by safety Jace Peebles at midfield. This was the second start of the season for Chavez, a freshman who will finish the season after starting quarterback Chase Hiatt suffered a season-ending injury. Chavez "did a good job executing" against Paonia, said head coach Curtis Hintz. "Each game he has improved."
Hotchkiss was forced to punt, and on the ensuing possession, a 43-yard pass from Meilner to Miller put Paonia on the Bulldog 35. After a 10-yard penalty and an incomplete pass, Meilner connected on third-and-19 with Miller inside the five, setting up an Eagles touchdown and PAT, and giving Paonia a 28-21 lead with 6:55 on the clock.
Hotchkiss was again forced to punt, but was given a chance to tie the game on an interception by Jace Peebles at midfield. The Bulldogs' hopes were lost when Felice intercepted the ball on the Paonia 35 with 1:22 remaining on the clock.
With two games remaining in the regular season, Paonia is now 5-1 overall and 2-0 in 2A Western Slope Conference play. It travels to Olathe (4-2, 2-0) Friday. Hotchkiss (2-3, 0-2) travels to Grand Valley (2-4, 0-2).