Left battered, bruised and downtrodden by last Friday's 40-8 loss to the St. Johns Redskins, the Longhorn football team spent the practice week struggling to regain its defending state championship form.
If the Horns were successful in putting the humbling loss to the Skins behind them and have righted their listing ship, the resurgence will have occurred just in the nick of time for this evening's all-important East Division opener.
Kick off against the Round Valley Elks is 7 p.m. in Longhorn stadium.
The results of the Horns earlier trio of games, in which they finished 1-1-1, have absolutely no bearing on whether the team makes a third consecutive trip to the season-ending state tournament.
Toss those results into the nearest dumpster.
But the outcome tonight will be forever stamped into the 1999 divisional standings and Coach Jim Beall would like nothing better than to get the team off to a winning start.
A loss would shove the Horns into a hole tough to climb out of with divisional toughies Snowflake (Oct. 15), Blue Ridge (Oct. 22) and Show Low (Oct. 29) waiting in the wings.
In the two decades, 70s and 80s, when prep hall of fame coach Tot Workman was at the helm of the Elk program, a victory over RV would be a monumental task.
But since his departure, the football program in Eagar/Springerville has fallen on hard times.
Last season, first-year coach John Dryden led the team to a 6-4 record, the school's best mark in seven years.
Round Valley will be led by Jeremy Finch, a 6-foot-1-inch quarterback and safety who is regarded as one of the best all-around players in the division.
Finch has a strong supporting cast in halfback Cory Austin, tight end Chris Wilson and wide receiver Mike Cantrell who help make the Elks wishbone and I formations click. If comparative scores are predictions of any value -- which they usually aren't -- the two teams fared fairly evenly against a common opponent -- St. Johns.
Round Valley lost to St. Johns 28-3, a 25-point margin, and the Horns lost to the Redskins by 32.
Payson loses pair of starters
The talk in the Longhorn camp throughout the week was a recent four-wheeler accident involving two football players, Levi Armstrong and Brian Bowman, and another PHS student, Nick Brunson, who is a member of the state championship baseball team.
According to PHS coaches, the trio were scouting over the weekend for the upcoming hunt season and were involved in an accident in which their all-terrain vehicle flipped.
At first, there was fear of serious injuries to Bowman and Armstrong, so the two were air evacuated to a Phoenix hospital. There, the pair were treated and have since returned to their Payson homes. Brunson suffered scrapes and bruises but was not air evacuated.
Assistant coach Jack Morris said he was unsure whether either Bowman or Armstrong would be available to play against Round Valley.
Bowman, a junior, is the team's strong safety.
Armstrong, only a sophomore, plays both defensive end and tailback. In three games, he has rushed for 96 yards on 15 carries scoring two touchdowns.
If Armstrong can't play, senior Timmy Bunting -- an all-division performer last year when he was the team's leading rusher -- will have to shoulder more of the load.
The Horns also have plenty of other firepower in the backfield if they can get it untracked.
Senior fullback Justin Kaufman has rushed for 205 yards on 39; carries and has scored three touchdowns.
In Beall's power option offense, the quarterback is responsible for much of the ball-carrying duties.
However, Kyle Conway has yet to get untracked, averaging just 1.3 yards per carry.
Through the airways, Conway has completed 11 of 39 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns. He's been intercepted twice.
Conway and his backfield crew are only as good as the players who man the line of scrimmage and the bad news on the Horn front is that the team will have to do without one starter this week.
Tackle Ben Krieger bruised his knee in the loss to St. Johns and will be sidelined for the RV affair.
In tonight's battle, the line will be anchored by senior center Bryan Zumbro who was an all-division honoree in 1998. Greg Davis and Ben Gartner will start at the guard slots and Everett Lenhart and Chris Knopp at the tackles.
If the "O" line can manhandle the Elks up-front, the feat would go a long way in chalking up a much needed victory.
After giving up 404 yards rushing and 40 points, it might be pushing the envelope to find an outstanding defensive player, but the Horns apparently got a stellar effort from strong safety Dallin McLaws. Unofficially, McLaws led the team in tackling in the loss to St. Johns.
This evening's varsity match was preceded by freshman and jayvee games played last evening in the Round Valley High School dome in Eagar. Results were not available at press time.