How's this for a gridiron challenge for the PHS team?
In the 35-year-plus football history at Payson High School, the Longhorns have never beaten the Snowflake Lobos in varsity play.
That's an embarrassing statistic among Longhorn faithful.
There wasn't even a win over the Lobos in the two years, 1981 and 1998, the Longhorns were undefeated state champs -- the teams didn't meet during those seasons.
The winless streak against Snowflake creates a grandiose opportunity for members of the '99 squad to become a bookmark in annals of prep sports history. A victory would stamp the team members as the warriors who finally ended the dreaded Lobo supremacy.
For the parents and fans, the bitter taste that has long lingered in their mouths would be honey-sweetened.
Through the years, Payson had golden opportunities to put the clamps on the Lobo skein, but each time the Horns have come up short.
One of the greatest opportunities for a PHS win came in the 1986 state championship game played at Mesa Westwood High School. The two evenly matched teams battled gallantly at midfield in a game that was dominated by defense.
Few high school contests have ever featured two such determined defenses.
Current PHS assistant coach Jack Morris was a member of the '86 team and remembers all to well the slugfest.
Late in the second quarter, Lobo Russell Peterson scored on a short off tackle play that -- along with the conversion kick, lifted the Lobos a 7--0 lead.
Although the Horns had their chances to tie several times later in the game, three fumbles and one interception thwarted every attempt.
Snowflake's 7-0 lead stood up and the Lobos, coached by Rich Hoyt, returned to the White Mountains as state champs.
The Payson players left Mesa that evening rightfully proud of their valiant effort, but with memories of the heartbreaking loss stuck in their craws.
One player said, "I'll be 60 years old talking to my grandkids and still remember how bad this hurt."
A year later in a regular season game, the 1987 edition of the Horns traveled to Snowflake with every intention of avenging the state championship loss.
After building a 7-0 lead, the fired-up Horns were cruising on toward what could be a first-ever win. In the stands, the stunned Lobo faithful reeled at the sight of their beloved team trailing on their own turf.
In possession of the ball and driving for what could have been a 14-0 lead, Horn QB John Martin had an ill-advised pass picked off. The interception was returned to the Payson one-yard line. Two plays later the Lobos tied up the count 7-7.
Although the Horns led in most statistics, the Lobos took advantage of several turnovers to post a 19-7 come-from-behind victory.
The '87 team, bent and frustrated over the loss, advanced to the state quarterfinals but never had another shot at the Lobos.
Team members still fume when memories are rekindled of the victory that slipped through their fingers.
In 1991, Lobo coach Jim Beall -- now the Horns' head coach -- brought his team to Payson for an East Division showdown.
Highly favored Snowflake took a 3-0 lead in the first quarter and then desperately hung on as the Horns moved the ball up and down the field. Each time the Horn offense approached the goal line, they were denied a score either by a penalty, muffed play or the stout Lobo D.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Horns finally manufactured a touchdown on an 11-yard run by quarterback David Daniels.
As Horn fans hooted and hollered the 6-3 lead, the Lobos took to the field determined to ride to success on the shoulder pads of all-everything fullback Chance Green. After pounding the Horn defensive line time after time, Green dragged tacklers into the end zone for Snowflake's only TD of the game.
Payson had one last chance in the waning seconds but couldn't score on three Hail Mary pass attempts.
The 9-6 loss brought more than a few tears to the eyes of Horn players who painfully realized they were on the edge of pulling off the greatest upset of the football season.
Sitting on the edge of the field staring at the scoreboard, a player said, "I'm a senior. I'll never have another chance to do that."
There's no debating it, through the years Payson has been snake bit when it comes to the Lobos. Just when an end to the Lobo reign looked possible, the Horns snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
Will that trend continue tonight? Kick off is at 7:30 p.m. on Longhorn field.