Three big pass plays and a strong defensive effort gave the Paonia Eagles a non-conference, 19-0 win Friday night at Coal Ridge. Eagles quarterback Grey Neal completed four of eight passes for 138 yards and three touchdowns.
In what head coach Blaine Escher called "a great demonstration of athleticism," the Eagles got on the board in the first quarter on a 35-yard touchdown pass from Neal to Soul Connolly. With the Titan defense covering Connolly, "He dropped it right in there," connecting with Connolly in the end zone.
"It was insane," said Connolly. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime catch. I saw the ball coming and everything in my body told me to just jump as high as I could."
The Eagles carried the momentum into the second quarter. Neal found Anthony Felice open at midfield for an 81-yard touchdown play. "It was a great second effort on his part," said Escher of Felice, who broke several tackles and dragged a few Titans along the way. "He's an animal when he gets the ball."
With a minute remaining in the half and Paonia in possession in Titans territory, Escher said he planned to run the clock down, but decided to go for one more TD. Neal found Carlos Lozano all alone in the end zone on a 23-yard play and Logan Green kicked the PAT for a 19-0, halftime lead.
The scoreless second half was a lot of back and forth, said Escher. The offense was a "a little out of their comfort zone" at times. The Titans were blitzing and Paonia failed to convert on a couple of third-and-short situations due to false starts.
"It was definitely a back and forth," said Escher. The offense was able to run the ball, at one point getting to the Titan's 35. Neal had one interception on a miscommunication, and the Eagles turned the ball over on a muffed snap.
On the ground Felice gained 25 yards in five carries. Jesse Burns rushed for 56 yards in 11 carriers and Sackett Chesnik had 14 carries for 49 yards.
The defense did its job, coordinating some "awesome defensive stands" against the Titans, said Escher. Chesnik had eight solo and four assisted tackles, Felice had seven solos and six of Burns' 10 tackles were solos. Sacks by Dominic Felice, Austyn Norris and Justin Holt helped the defense hold Coal Ridge to 29 yards passing and 62 total yards rushing. Levi Peterson added five solo tackles and one assist.
The Eagles are now 2-1, rallying after their season-opening 38-point loss to defending state runner-up Centauri to blank Monte Vista, 42-0. They wrap up non-conference play Friday against the 2A Longhorns at Basalt. The game will cap a week of Homecoming activities, and royalty will be crowned at halftime.
The 3-0 Longhorns have had one touchdown scored against them this season.
The two teams scrimmaged early in the summer and matched up well, said Escher. "It's going to be a battle."