The preseason practice schedule for the defending state champion Longhorn football team took a bizarre twist with the cancellation of preseason controlled scrimmage that was to be played Aug. 27.
Only last week, coaches at Glendale High School informed Horn head coach Jim Beall that the Cardinals would not be in Payson to participate in the scrimmage.
The reason the opposing coaches gave was that Glendale is a Class 4A school and cannot begin preseason practices until one week after the Class 3A start-up date of Aug. 9. Since the first week of practice is restricted to conditioning without pads and equipment, the Glendale players would have had only four days in pads before the scrimmage.
Apparently the Cardinals coaches didn't believe that was in the best interest of their team.
With Glendale opting out, Beall was left scampering for a team to fill the void.
As of press time, the coach was contacting both Cactus Shadows and Sedona to see if they were interested.
"We need that scrimmage. We need someone (to play)," Beall said.
A common misconception is that the scrimmage -- first sanctioned more than 10 years ago by the Arizona Interscholastic Association -- is of little value since no score is kept, the statistics are not officially counted, and the scrimmage results do not count in either team's won-loss record.
But coaches know the scrimmage is a valuable tuneup prior to the onset of the regular season. It gives the players a chance to prove themselves in game-like conditions and prepare for the rigors of the regular season.
Also, after three weeks of tackling and blocking only teammates, the sight of another player across the line of scrimmage is a welcome one.
Coaches rely on the scrimmage to assess the offense, defense, individual player performance and strategies.
Many a coach has made major last-week adjustments after viewing the outcome of the scrimmages.
About the only facet not tested in the scrimmages are the special teams, since there are no kick-offs, kick returns, punts or punt returns. When the AIA sanctioned the scrimmages, it was decided to leave out special teams play in an effort to cut down on injuries.
Finding a replacement team for the scrimmage has become a priority for Beall and his staff.
Neither the Horn staff nor the players know who they might be scrimmaging in three weeks, but there is little doubt who is on the agenda for the Sept. 3 opener in Longhorn Stadium.
Long-time, Class 3A South Division power Safford, whose coach, Ken Guzik, sports a 113-38 record, will visit the Rim country looking to avenge a 27-6 loss to Payson in the 1998 state semifinals. Game time is 7 p.m.
The Bulldogs have been to the playoffs nine consecutive seasons and will be looking to extend that mark.
The good news when PHS Athletic Director Barry Smith released the fall schedules last week was that Payson's foe on Sept 10, Arizona Boys Ranch, will field a team despite the fact the student body numbers less than 50 boys.
ABR is only a skeleton of the powerhouse it was a few years ago, but the Spartan staff is working to keep the football program alive and well. ABR will not field a jayvee or freshman team.
One of the highlights of the Longhorns' schedule occurs Oct. 22 in Lakeside against the Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets.
In the 1998 state championship game, played before almost 4,000 fans at Mesa College, Payson ended Blue Ridge's 63-game winning streak with a 29-20 victory.
Payson's upset also put a clamp on the Jackets' run of five consecutive state championships and ended a dynasty the likes of which state football fans have never seen.
The regular season wraps up for Payson Oct. 29 in Show Low. The state playoffs begin Nov. 5.