roundup staff reporter
Payson High's road to the 1998 state football championship was littered with the wrecks of 13 prep teams that struggled but failed to stand in the Horns' way during the three-month long season.
Among those dismantled by the Payson blitzkrieg was a team that had qualified for the state tournament nine consecutive years. The Safford Bulldogs, tradition rich in Class 3A football, lost a 27-6 decision in the state semifinals played at Mesa College.
After almost a full year of waiting, the Dogs will finally have the opportunity to bite back at the Horns at 7 p.m. today (Friday) in PHS stadium.
The contest will serve as the regular season opener for the teams, but both participated in controlled scrimmages last week. Safford took on Class 2A power Thatcher and Payson played host to Tuba City of the 3A North Division.
Following the scrimmages, PHS assistant coach Jack Morris met up with Safford head coach Ken Guzik to exchange game films -- a common scouting practice in high school football.
Morris said after viewing the films and compiling scouting reports, the PHS staff has prepared the Horns to defend against Safford's wing-T offense that features 6 foot, 3 inch, 250-pound B.J. Nelson at center.
Nelson's no stranger to Payson fans -- he was the long-time nemesis of PHS heavyweight wrestling state champion Blair River the past two seasons.
Safford has long been known for its speed, and the Dog burner this year appears to be wideout Everson Turner.
But to be effective, Turner will need a quarterback to throw to him, and that position has been a question mark since the season opened, Guzik has said.
Senior Louie Rios is expected to start at the signal caller position and his effectiveness could be a key to Safford's success.
His counterpart on the Payson team, senior Kyle Conway, will be at the helm of the Horn offense after backing up talented Hunter Walden last season.
The Horns lost a talented crew to graduation, but also have a bevy of returning letter winners. Among them are linebacker Jimbo Armstrong, fullback Justin Kaufman, corner Dallin McLaws and defensive end Cade Bradley.
The Horns enter tonight's fray as a state top-five ranked club, depending on which poll is considered.
Safford is also highly regarded and is ranked among the top-10 in most polls.
But, as a non-divisional contest, the clash is not a do-or-die situation for either school.
Both Guzik and Payson coach Jim Beall, however, would like their teams to kick off the season in impressive fashion, and a well-played victory would go a long way toward achieving that goal.
After hosting Arizona Boys Ranch Sept. 10, the Horns jump head-first into East Division action Sept. 17 in St. Johns.