State second-ranked Payson (1-0-1) will carry the burden of the 3A conference's reputation on its shoulder when the team travels to St. Johns this evening to take on the Class 2A third-ranked Redskins (2-0).
Only a week ago, top-five ranked 3A Safford lost to a 2A Thatcher, which is a no-no in prep football circles. Schools with larger student populations to draw from are expected to manhandle smaller schools.
Another loss by a 3A team to a 2A squad would be a slap in the hip pads for the 3A conference.
As the defending state champions, Payson will enter the game as favorites, but you can bet the family farm the tradition-rich Redskins are not about to roll out the red carpet for the visiting Longhorns.
Under coach Mike Morgan, St. Johns has posted one of the best wining percentages (.822) in the state regardless of school size classification. From 1992-95 the Skins frolicked through a 43-game winning streak on its way to three consecutive Class 2A state championships.
From 1995 to 1998, St. Johns moved to the 3A ranks and compiled a commendable 72-12-1 record. When the school's enrollment dipped last year, the Redskins rejoined the 2A conference.
Fans might think a school with less than 400 students-- like St. Johns couldn't sport too many outstanding football players, but only a few years ago, the Skins featured a standout linebacker named Marcus Bell.
Today, Bell stars for the University of Arizona, and is considered one of the finest collegiate linebackers in the country with a promising professional future.
"Lambson" is another prominent football name in the small, tight-knit community that serves as the capital of Apache County.
Several in the family have excelled as gridiron standouts for the Redskins. The latest to highlight the gridiron scene is senior Afton Lambson who will play both running back and defensive back this evening.
Like Lambsons, the Heaps family is a big part of the athletic lore in St. Johns. As a receiver for the Skins, Aaron Heap is about as good as they come.
In St. Johns they love their high school football and it's rare when a visitor, regardless of school size, whips the Skins on their own turf.
If there is a team capable of sneaking away with a win, it's the Longhorns who are fresh off a 49-0 pounding of Arizona Boys Ranch. The Horns opened the season with a 6-6 tie against Safford.
Against Boys Ranch, the Horns were able to get their power-option offense untracked after it had sputtered against Safford.
On the ground, the Horns rushed for 299 yards, most of which were piled up by fullback Justin Kaufmann (140) and tailback Levi Armstrong (69).
Through the airways, quarterback Kyle Conway met with decent success, completing four of nine pass attempts for 89 yards and one touchdown -- a 28-yard aerial to Dusty Brockett.
The Horns will be bolstered by the return of a potential starter to the line-up. Bryan Zumbro, the starter center last year, did not go out for football when pre-season drills began in August. After attending a summer baseball camp at Stanford, the teen-ager decided to devote more time to his budding baseball career. Since then, however, he has rethought his position and is back in the Longhorn football fold.
Game time in St. Johns is 7 p.m.