Paonia coach Jeremy McCormick said he wanted to set the tone early in Saturday's game against Hayden. His team did just that, allowing Hayden only one play in the first quarter, a pass that Paonia intercepted.
The Paonia Eagles, who won 39-6, began the game with a 14-yard drive, in which they converted on two fourth downs.
"I was confident in our defense -- we could hold them if we turned it over, and I was even more confident we could get the first down," McCormick said about the gutsy plays.
The Eagles punched into the end zone easily on a 4-yard run by Trevor Morley.
The Eagles followed the score with an unorthodox first-quarter onside kick, which they recovered. McCormick said it also was part of the plan to "set the tone." When asked why he called for an onside kick, McCormick said, "Why not?"
Paonia moved the ball 42 yards in the next eight plays, finishing the drive with quarterback Chase Roeber sneaking up the middle one yard for the touchdown.
When Hayden finally got the ball after the following kickoff, quarterback Keenan Bruchez was pressured on the first play and threw an interception, which Paonia returned into the end zone, but it was called back to the 35-yard line for clipping.
From the 35, Paonia moved the ball all the way to the 8-yard line, before junior Evan Hilling intercepted a pass from Roeber and returned the ball 92 yards for Hayden's only score of the game.
Hayden Tigers Coach Shawn Baumgartner said the score gave Hayden a momentum boost, but ultimately, his Tigers didn't match up in size or strength to the Eagles.
"We came in knowing they were big up front," Baumgartner said. "We just didn't stop them up the middle. We were hitting them at the line, but we weren't wrapping up and tackling like we should have."
Several tackles were missed after Hayden scored and kicked off, when Paonia's Phillip Martinez returned the kickoff 56 yards to Hayden's 34-yard line. The Eagles dynamic rushing duo of Tyree Abshire and Trevor Morley, who each finished the game with more than 125 rushing yards, steadily pounded the ball up the middle and around the corners, finishing the first drive of the second quarter with a 15-yard Abshire touchdown.
After that score, Hayden started making progress on offense. The Tigers got as close as the Paonia 4-yard line when Bruchez was once again pressured into throwing an interception. The Eagles' Martinez returned the interception 96 yards for a touchdown, making the score 6-26.
In the third quarter, the Eagles continued to move the chains, finding the end zone near the end of the quarter with a 24-yard pass from Roeber to Adam Gentzler.
After Paonia scored again in the fourth on a 9-yard run by John Laiminger, McCormick sent in the junior varsity squad to finish the game.
"Defensively, we played our hearts out," Baumgartner said. "We had them right where we wanted them in third- and fourth-down situations, but it just didn't happen the way we wanted it to. We've got to put this game behind us. There's nothing we can do about it now."
McCormick said Hayden looked better than last year in passing and rushing the linebackers.
"We had some juniors step up for us today, that really helped us win the way we did," McCormick said.
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