What a difference a season can make in prep football.
Less than one year ago, the undefeated Longhorn football team was frolicking in the school's second state championship season after administering a 29-20 whipping to the Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets.
The Horn win ended the Jackets' state-record 64-game winning streak.
Friday evening in Lakeside, the post-game scenario switched dramatically from celebration to the Longhorns gingerly licking their wounds from the Jackets' 49-7 rear-end kicking.
In the White Mountains, BR fans are celebrating the triumph as instant revenge for last year's crushing defeat.
But in the Rim country, the Horns are trying to right their listing ship in preparation for the all-important season finale Oct. 29 in Show Low.
The stakes in the clash between the Cougars and Horns will include second-place honors in the East division and an all-important home-field advantage into the state tournament when it opens Nov. 5.
The Horns ensured themselves of at least a third-place seed to state with a 26-23 victory over Snowflake Oct. 15. But third- and fourth-place finishers must travel to the home of the higher seeds for the first round.
To play in Payson and nail down the division's runner-up slot, the Horns need to tame the Cougars Friday evening.
Like Payson, Show Low has lost to undefeated and top-ranked Blue Ridge by a lopsided margin. The Cougars were beaten 49-0 in an early season encounter.
After opening up a 21-7 lead at halftime, the Yellow Jackets were virtually unstoppable in the final two stanzas, thanks to the rushing of senior tailback Charles Parkinson.
The speedy scatback finished the game with 290 yards on 18 carries, outrunning the Horn defensive ends on sweep plays and banging inside on counters, powers and traps.
Paced by Parkinson, the Jackets shredded the Horns rushing defense for a hefty 490 yards.
PHS assistant coach Jack Morris came away impressed with Parkinson's abilities.
"He is very fast. He would take a jab step inside, then turn outside on the sweeps," Morris said. "He also ran between the tackles well."
In trying to keep pace with the Jackets, which posted its 76th consecutive home victory, the Horns were slowed by the loss of several key players to injuries.
Senior tailback Timmy Bunting played a pivotal role in last year's win over the Yellow Jackets, but only watched from the sidelines Friday evening, nursing a groin injury. He did not practice the week preceding the game and his status is uncertain for Show Low.
Also, senior linebacker Jimbo Armstrong suffered a rib injury in the third quarter of the contest and could not return to play.
In the second quarter, guard Greg Davis left with an injury to his arm.
In the malady of bangs and bruises, Morris praised the play of tailback and defensive end Levi Armstrong.
"At the end of the game, he was covered with sweat, dirt and blood (from a cut on the forehead), but he never quit. He played hard all the game," Morris said.
In the first seven contests of this season, the Horns -- now 5-2-1 overall and 4-1 in the East -- had outscored their opponents by a 168-97 margin. But Friday, the Horns' power option offense could never get untracked against a rock-solid Blue Ridge defense which dominated the line of scrimmage.
What's it take?
For the Longhorns to emerge victorious in their second successive trip to the White Mountains, the team will need to travel East with a full squad of healthy players -- Bunting, Davis and Jimbo Armstrong are crucial to the Longhorn cause.
Also, the team will have to take a dead-serious approach to practice sessions throughout the week and discard any distractions that could adversely affect their play.
Dating back to the days of former PHS coach Terry Nodlinski, there's never been any love loss between the Horns and Cougars.
Since the late '70s, many epic gridiron battles have been waged that remain fresh in the minds of the old warriors and coaches.
Friday night's war should be no different. Kickoff time is 7 p.m. in Show Low High School stadium.