If the accomplishments of the Longhorn freshman team are a glimpse into the future, the Payson High football program is in for a great four-year ride.
The highly talented plebes wrapped up a 9-0 season Thursday afternoon in PHS stadium with a 26-6 victory over the Show Low Cougars.
In rockin 'n' rollin' to the unblemished record, the hard charging rookies steamrolled over almost every team they faced.
After a 54-0 triumph over Wickenburg Oct. 9, Coach Lane Stratton said, "It was total domination. Physically, they couldn't match up."
About the only true adversity the team faced during the course of the season occurred Oct. 14 in Snowflake. There, the host Lobos gave the Horns a rough ride before succumbing 22-14.
"It was a tough, hard-hitting battle," Stratton said following the win.
Unlike past years when the Lobos thrived on a rock 'em sock 'em ground attack, Snowflake unveiled a vaunted air game much like their varsity counterparts did one day later in Payson.
The Lobos frosh jumped out to a 14-7 lead, thanks in great part to a passing attack that caught the Longhorns off guard.
But late in the second quarter, the determined Horns cashed in on a sustained drive when fullback Taylor Walden scored on a short dive play with one second remaining.
A successful two-point conversion pass from quarterback Nate Perna to Waylon Quotsukyva gave the Horns a 15-14 lead going into the locker room.
After several halftime adjustments from defensive coach Carl Whittle, the Horns shut down the Lobos aerial attack in the second half.
Pass interceptions by Jake Swartwood, James Lyons and Layton Howell stalled several Lobo drives.
The triumph was especially meaningful for coaches Stratton and Whittle. The pair are both former Longhorn football stars who remember all to vividly experiencing their share of frustrations against the once-formidable Lobos.
"We thoroughly enjoyed the win against our old enemy," Stratton said.
Whipping Lobos was a thrill for the coaches but it was a 44-6 win Oct. 21 over Blue Ridge that stands out in the minds of some of the players, including Swartwood.
"Beating them was our best (win) by far," said the first-year tight end.
Throughout the season, the frosh thrived on a stingy defense that held opponents to less than six points per game and recorded four shut outs.
Paced by Walden at linebacker and James Huddleston and noseguard, the Horn "D" was a tough nut to crack.
Offensively, Perna pulled the trigger on the power option offense that thrived on the running of Pettet and Quotsukyva.
Up front, center Bryce River and tackle Preston Boyle led a determined charge by an offensive line that continually opened holes for the running backs and protected Perna when the coaches turned to the passing attack.
Future varsity lineup
The accomplishments of the freshmen players have not gone unnoticed by the varsity staff who have said some of them might be seeing varsity action as soon as next season.
Stratton has little doubt the players are prepared for the rigors of varsity play. "They've set the stage for years to come," he said.
The undefeated freshmen campaign was only second in the history of football at Payson High School. The PHS class of 2000 finished its freshmen year with an 8-0 mark under the tutelage of coaches Jack Morris and Mike Loutzenheiser.