Turn out the lights -- Snowflake's Rim country football party is over.
The Lobos complete varsity dominance of Payson came to a screeching halt Friday evening in Longhorn stadium when PHS quarterback Kyle Conway hooked up with wide receiver Dusty Brockett on a desperation, game-winning, fourth-down TD pass.
The catch, which came with 3.4 seconds remaining in the game, lifted the Horns to a come from behind 26-23 victory and put an end to the long misery Payson faithful have suffered at the paws of the Lobos.
In the history of football at Payson High, which dates back 35-plus years, the Horns had never recorded a varsity triumph over Snowflake.
Along the way, there had been many narrow, heart-breaking defeats that sent PHS players, fans and parents reeling.
Couple the varsity team's stunning victory with Thursday evening's triumphs by the Horn freshmen (22-14) and jayvees (6-0) and there are hints in prep football circles that Payson High could be building a dominance of their own over the Lobos.
Ending Snowflake's dreaded reign was a season-long goal of the team according to Conway.
"We wanted to beat them and end (the Lobos' winning streak)," the senior signal caller said. "It was pretty exciting."
After Brockett's game-winning touchdown catch, as the final few seconds ticked down, fans swarmed the field to congratulate the victorious Payson players. Among the celebrants was the Longhorn boys' soccer team, many of whom were shirtless, twirling their garb in the air much like one U.S. player did while celebrating victory in the women's World Cup.
Last minute heroics
The jubilation could easily have turned into another ugly dose of the Longhorn blues, had it not been for a determined 11-play drive over the course of the final minute and 30 seconds.
The stirring drama began to unfold with 1:36 remaining in the game when Lobo Josh Jacobson scored on a five-yard TD aerial from Snowflake's red-hot quarterback Jeff Reidhead.
The TD erased Payson's precarious 20-17 lead.
Now ahead 23-20, the Lobo sideline brain trust elected to try a two-point conversion which, if successful, would rule out Payson kicking a game-tying field goal.
But the conversion run was thwarted by the Horn defense which gave up only 35 rushing yards the entire evening.
After the ensuing kickoff, Payson took control of the ball on about the 35-yard line.
With Conway cooly at the controls, the Horns began their game-winning march mixing short passes with running plays by tailback Tim Bunting and fullback Justin Kaufmann.
The well-executed drive took the Horns quickly to the Lobo five-yard line and had fans on both sides hootin' and hollerin'. There, the team faced a crucial fourth-down play with just over three seconds remaining.
The first reaction of the Horn coaching staff was to kick a game-tying field goal and force the game into overtime, defensive coordinator Mike Wheelis said.
However, during a Snowflake-called time out, the PHS coaching staff trashed that philosophy and opted to attempt a game-winning TD on a play action pass.
The roll of the dice went Payson's way when Conway, after faking a dive play, uncorked a nicely thrown spiral to Brockett who was running a curl route in the end zone.
"I think there was another receiver open, too, but the first one I saw was Dusty," Conway said.
Assistant coach Jack Morris lauded the quarterback's throw. "It was right there -- he rifled it."
The coach also had praise for offensive tackle Ben Krieger who, he said, was big reason for the team's success on the ground and through the airways.
"He was just blowing people away whether he was on the play or back side," Morris said.
Kreiger said he thought he had his best game of the season and was happy it came against Snowflake, but said he was also playing for his mother.
Another crucial play
In an iron-willed clash that dripped with suspense and drama from the opening whistle, a 24-yard pass interception return by cornerback Caleb Miller will go down as the one that saved the Longhorns' bacon.
The youngster's crucial pick came with 4:09 remaining in the fourth quarter and Payson trailing 17-14
On the Snowflake pass attempt from Reidhead, Horn defensive end Sterling White, battling a blocker, reached high to deflect the ball.
Alertly, Miller gathered in the errant enemy aerial and scampered almost untouched to pay dirt. The score not only lifted Payson to a 20-17 lead, it helped steady the rattled Horn defense that had allowed Reidhead to throw at will.
Slowing the Lobo gunslinger
The strong-armed Lobo signal caller, whose quick release and short three-step drops frustrated the Horn defenders, finished with 17 completions in 32 attempts for 231 yards and two touchdowns.
But it was his one miscue, the interception by Miller, that allowed Payson to remain in contention.
Wheelis praised the efforts of Reidhead. "His passes pretty well dictated what (pass coverges) we were in," he said.
After watching Reidhead take apart the Horn secondary in the first half completing 12 of 18 passes, the Payson coaching staff made a strategy change that slowed the Lobo gunslinger after halftime.
By walking away the defensive end into pass coverage on the side opposite Snowflake's three receivers, Reidhead had some of his options -- the throw back and quick slant --taken away. In the second half, he was able to complete just five of 14 attempts.
What's up now?
Lost in the hoopla of putting the clamps on the Lobo win streak was the fact the Horn triumph nailed down at least a third-place seed to the state tournament which begins Nov. 5.
The defending state champion Longhorns ( 5-1-1 overall, 4-0 in the East) could take a huge step toward an East Division championship and a top seed to state with a victory Friday over top-ranked and undefeated Blue Ridge. Kick off is 7 p.m. in Lakeside.