When the game clock signaled the end of Friday night's football game in Paonia, Soroco coach Gary Heide couldn't blame his players for the Rams' 22-7 loss to the league-leading Eagles.
"I couldn't have asked for much more," Heide said. "We scored first, we didn't turn the ball over and we had the lead at halftime."
On the other side of the field, Paonia's coaches had a reason to be concerned.
The Eagles turned over the ball five times and struggled to get the team's dominant offense rolling in the first half against the stingy but smaller-sized Soroco defenders.
The coaches' concern grew when the Eagles' first mistake of the game led to the Rams' first touchdown early in the first quarter.
"I knew we couldn't afford to put the ball on the ground against this team," Paonia coach Jeremy McCormick said. "If not for a tipped ball and an interception, Soroco would have beaten Meeker a couple of weeks ago."
So when the Eagles surrendered the ball on the 30-yard line after a snap flew over the punter's head on fourth-and-long, it sent a wave across the Paonia bench.
It also allowed the Rams to put together a five-play drive that led to C.J. Remmick's 3-yard touchdown plunge.
But Remmick never would have gotten the chance if not for Kory Babcock's pass to Matt Cartas and Andy deGanahl's 25-yard scamper on fourth-and-two that kept the drive alive.
But for everything the Rams did right, the team couldn't consistently stop Paonia's power running game.
Behind back Tyree Abshire, the Eagles piled up 360 yards of total offense, including 250 on the ground.
Abshire scored all three of the Eagles' touchdowns and finished with 139 yards on 19 carries. Teammate John Laiminger chipped in with 110 yards on 22 carries.
Abshire netted his first touchdown after the Rams' opening drive. The Eagles failed on the two-point conversion but trailed by a single point headed into the second quarter.
Neither team could score in the second, but the Rams missed a golden opportunity after the Eagles fumbled a punt late. The Rams drove to the 2-yard line, but with time running out, Ram kicker Trevor Ellis missed a 23-yard field goal attempt.
It was a big break for the Eagles, but it wasn't the biggest. Paonia's biggest break came on the kickoff to start the third quarter.
The Eagle kicker almost missed the ball but got enough of it to send it dribbling more than the required 10 yards. The ball bounced off an unsuspecting Soroco special-teams player right back to the Paonia players who were running to make a tackle.
"It wasn't a planned onsides kick," McCormick said. "Our guy just missed the ball, and we got a break."
The Eagles recovered the ball in great field position and then drove down the field for the go-ahead touchdown from Abshire.
In that series, Eagle quarterback Chase Roeber connected with Josh Swartzendruber on the two-point conversion to give the hometown Eagles a 14-7 lead.
"It was just one of those fluky things," Heide said of the onsides kick. "It wasn't our player's fault, and I don't think is was planned."
Paonia increased the lead in the fourth, when Abshire punched in the Eagles' final touchdown of the game. Roeber connected with Swartzendruber for another two-point conversion.
The win boosted the Eagles to 6-0 overall this season and 4-0 in league play.
Paonia now holds a slight advantage over three second-place teams, Meeker, Grand Valley and Rangely, which are all 3-1.
Plateau Valley is just off the pace in fifth at 2-2, and Soroco is sixth at 3-3.
Hayden and West Grand are still looking for the first league victories of the season at 0-4.
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