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Seniors lead Eagles to win

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Photo by Eric Goold Cedaredge ball carrier Tristan Waddell runs to the sideline while Paonia senior Taylor Walters closes in for a tackle. Paonia beat the Bruins 48-7 to win its third straight Western Slope Conference title.

It was a numbers game last Friday night when the Eagles defeated Cedaredge 48-7 at Paonia Town Park in the last football contest of the 1A regular season.

Six seniors, 15 Western Slope Conference wins. Two state titles, three straight conference championships.

Taylor Walters and the five other Eagles seniors were honored before the game, the last they will play under the Friday Night Lights in Paonia.

"It's our hometown. We'll always love it, playing under these lights, bringing the town together," Walters said. "With everyone supporting us, it's a great thing. Not a lot of people get to experience this."

Walters ran for three scores and threw two touchdown passes in the win that wrapped up a third consecutive Western Slope Conference crown for the Eagles. This group of seniors went 15-0 in conference games the last three seasons.

"It feels great knowing we were the best conference team the last three years," Walters said. "We were good enough to do it."

The seniors showed from the beginning that Cedaredge was in for a long day. Jeramiah Hillman started things off with an 80-yard touchdown run on the very first snap of the game, speeding down the sideline untouched.

Hillman is best friends with Walters, and his thoughts after the game were about the many times they've played at Paonia Town Park.

"We've accomplished a lot as a class and as a team as a whole. It's been great," said Hillman. "We've played under these lights forever, since fifth grade. We share a lot of good memories on this field."

Cedaredge responded with a score on its opening drive. Jake Ostrom threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Christian Reynolds, and Bryce Klaseen's kick made it 7-7.

After that, it was all Paonia.

"The difference in the game was not tackling anybody on defense very well," Bruins coach Brandon Milholland said. "We kind of got pushed around in the trenches, and then they're just bigger and stronger than we are. They moved the ball at will."

Walters came right back on the Eagles' second snap of the game, this time with an 85-yard touchdown that put Paonia ahead 14-7.

After a turnover, Walters threw a 10-yard scoring strike to Dagan Rienks, and then Walters ran in a 28-yard touchdown. Senior Trevor Plymale caught the 2-point conversion pass to make it 28-7 Eagles.

"It feels good to dominate Cedaredge, to win the conference," Plymale said. "We're proud of that, and hopefully we can carry that into the playoffs. With the town and the community coming together it's really something special."

Walters' 2-yard TD run made it 34-7 at halftime.

Senior Austin Katzer joined Eagles football just this year and is a contributor on both lines.

"I'm ecstatic. This is so much fun, everyone is just so close," Katzer said. "Being in my first year, it means a lot because I've been working hard to be here."

Paonia scored a touchdown in the third and fourth quarters to secure the win against Cedaredge. Walters connected with Rienks on another touchdown pass, this one 51 yards, and Paonia led 41-7.

Senior Tyler Dennison, also a player on the lines, had mixed emotions after the win.

"It's our last game, so it's bittersweet," Dennison said. "I know I'll miss it for sure. It's fun, but being the last one ever on this field under the lights, it's kind of sad."

Hillman completed the victory over the Bruins with his 17-yard TD run midway through the fourth quarter. Colby Simpson finished 5-for-6 kicking extra points.

Senior Willy Darling, much like his brother Tony Darling two years ago, was a man of few words in the postgame interview.

"I feel fantastic," he said. "It's a little sad that it's our last game under the lights, but I'm happy that we won."

Paonia head coach Brent McRae directed the seniors through their dominant three-year run.

"I tell them every day my job is to love them, and I truly do," McRae said. "It's bittersweet. You love to see the success, but it's sad because they'll be gone. We just keep enjoying the ride together."

Walters, the Player of the Year and perhaps the most talented athlete ever to play at Paonia High School, had the last word on the Eagles seniors.

"These are my boys. This is my family," Walters said. "I've been with them for four years now. I love them and we worked together as a family tonight."

Photo by Eric Goold Paonia senior Jeramiah Hillman spins out of the tackle of Cedaredge senior Tristan Waddell during last Friday night’s 48-7 victory for the Eagles.
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