Wickenburg Whipped, Horns Head To State Quarterfinals


Flying high on quarterback Hunter Walden's passing arm, the state second-ranked Payson Longhorns debuted successfully in the opening round of the state tournament with a 53-13 victory over the Wickenburg Wranglers. The senior signal caller - a sure bet to rake in a locker full of post-season honors- showed no ill effects of a sore shoulder he had been nursing the week leading up to the clash. The injury limited his practice time but Friday evening in front of a rowdy Payson crowd in PHS stadium, he put on a stirring aerial circus. In his best passing outing yet, Walden completed 10 of 11 passes for 159 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. His computer quarterback rating of 229 would leave the likes of Joe Montana, Steve Young and Johnny Unitas staggering. Walden attributed his eye-popping performance to "good protection up front. I wasn't hurried at all. "I was throwing the ball short and (the receivers) were turning (the catches) into good runs." When he wasn't rifling the airways with pigskins, Walden was running option keepers out of the Horns power offense to the tune of 35 yards and one touchdown. The scoring run, a 5-yard jaunt with 8:16 remaining in the second quarter, upped the Horns lead to 19-0 and 20-0 after Josh Barnhart's successful point-after kick. The scores put a stinging damper on Wrangler aspirations. With the win, the unbeaten Central Division champion Horns (10-0) advance to a state quarterfinals against the Show Low Cougars (9-1) who finished as the East division runner-up behind four-time defending state champion Blue Ridge. Show Low advanced in the tournament with an opening round 21-13 win over Kayenta Monument Valley. The quarterfinals kick off is 5 p.m. Friday at Mesa College. The trip will be a glimpse of d vu for the Longhorns who also played in a state quarterfinal game last year at Mesa College. In that game, feisty Payson gave eventual state champ Blue Ridge fits before falling to a late Yellow Jacket rally 20-14. More heroes Walden's performance left little doubt he was chiefly responsible for engineering the Horn express to the win over the out-manned Wranglers. However, a host of others also played pivotal roles in the win. Tailback Timmy Bunting, benefiting from solid up-front blocking by fullback Cable Morris and left guard Jordan Severson, churned out a game high 122 yards on 14 carries. Bunting also had two touchdown runs - a 6-yard romp that gave the Horns an early 6-0 cushion and a 30-yard dash with 9:50 remaining in the game that upped the count to 52-7. The junior speedster's all-around effort included one pass reception for four yards and a 14-yard kick return. Currently, Bunting is the team's leading rusher having racked up 819 yards on 103 attempts. His longest run is 62 yards and he's scored 13 touchdowns. Returning mostly to the fullback position he manned so ably last year, Morris produced a solid effort against Wickenburg that included 65 yards rushing in five carries and a 15-yard kick return. The senior strongman, who holds several school strength records, also turned a screen pass from Walden into a 25-yard gain. Include on the list of Friday night heroes Josh Barnhart. As a do-everything flanker, kicker and punter, Barnhart rushed for 10 yards, converted six of seven extra points, booted a 30-yard field goal, caught four passes for 45 yards and scored one touchdown. His scoring reception, a 19-yarder from Walden, came with 2:38 to play in the first quarter and lifted Payson to a 13-0 lead. Barnhart also handled the team's kickoff chores and averaged more than 58 yards on nine boots. With the offense putting up points more often than Monica Lewinsky is in the news, the Horns defense coach Mike Wheelis got into the scoring act late in the third quarter. Defensive end Craig McClanahan brought down a Wrangler running back in the end zone that increased the Payson lead to 39-7. Only 30 seconds later, after the Wranglers had free kicked to Payson because of the safety, Walden lofted a 25-yard scoring aerial to wide receiver Jeremy Hoff and the Horn express was running amuck. Hoff finished with two receptions for 61 yards. In addition to the defensive antics of McClanahan, free safety Jason Carroll helped hold Wickenburg to only 206 yards in total offense. Carroll also had a pass interception as did inside linebacker Ryan Lorentz. The Horns secondary of Jimmy Canez, Brian Cork, Hoff and Carroll handcuffed the Wranglers to just 71 yards through the airways on four of 14 passing attempts.

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