First-year head football coach Brent McRae told his team at the start of the season to expect the playoffs. "Once you get there, anything can happen," said McRae after his Paonia Eagles, seeded fourth in the state playoff bracket, trounced No. 13 Colorado Springs Christian, 34-6, to advance to this week's quarterfinal round.
"And here we are."
Of the three Delta County football teams in the 1A Western Slope Conference to enter Saturday's first-round playoffs, only Paonia survived. They are seeded fourth in the state bracket, and will host No. 5 Monte Vista this Saturday at 1 p.m. The Pirates (8-2 overall) advanced on a 20-7 win over No. 12 Cedaredge.
Quarterback Taylor Walters completed two of nine passes for 83 yards in the win, including a 54-yard, second-half touchdown pass to Joel Simianer, and rushed for 133 yards and two touchdowns. Will Austin rushed for 89 yards and one TD, and sophomore Jeramiah Hillman ran for 53 yards, including a 36-yard TD late in the game. Walters was intercepted once, but with two seconds remaining in the half, the Lions were unable to capitalize.
Place-kicker Colby Simpson was four of five in extra point attempts. Four points is average for Simpson, a freshman who started the season on junior varsity. Simpson tried out for place-kicker and discovered he could split the uprights by kicking the ball soccer-style. Simpson made five of seven PATs in his first varsity appearance.
Simpson said he was confident in the team and its new head coach from the start. "I didn't know if we would make it this far, win league and all that," said Simpson, "But I never doubted us."
"He's mentally tough and that's why he's there," said McRae.
The Eagles led 14-0 at the half. "In the second half we went back to straight basics," said McRae. "That's what did it for us."
Paonia opened the second half with a turnover on a fumble, then stopped the Lions inside the red zone on their opening possession.
The Eagles upped the lead to 21 points on a fourth-down, 30-yard run by Walters; Simpson's PAT was good.
Paonia was scored on for the first time in 11 quarters when Lions freshman quarterback Justin Engresser connected with Luke Harrison on a 12-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth period. The 2-point conversion attempt failed.
"In a way it's kind of nice to get that score out of the way," said McRae. "It takes the pressure off." And, added McRae, "it shows that there are still things to fix."
The winner of Saturday's game will face either No. 1-seeded Buena Vista (10-0) or ninth-seed Resurrection Christian in the semifinals.
Several teams remain in the hunt for a title.Centauri, Burlington, Yuma and No. 2 Limon are also still alive.
By the flip of a coin, Paonia won the right to host Saturday's game against Monte Vista. "One more home game," said McRae with a sly smile. "That's going to be a lovely thing."blog comments powered by Disqus