A foursome of opening round state tournament victories chalked up by East Region teams Friday evening leaves little doubt that Payson High is the best prep football team not clutching a ducat to the big show.
East top-seeded Lakeside, Blue Ridge easily disposed of Tuba City 40-13 and second-seeded Show Low whipped Fort Defiance Window Rock 50-8.
Because BR and SL finished one-two in the East, both earned the advantage of opening state play on their home fields.
As the three and four seeds, Round Valley and Snowflake were forced to travel to the home site of the higher finisher.
But the trips didn't stall either teams' playoff hopes. Round Valley edged North runner-up Winslow 14-7 and Snowflake upset North champion and state thirdranked Ganado 20-14 in overtime.
Although the Longhorns compiled a winning 6-5 record, the team didn't finish among the East Region's top four and was forced to stay home for the first time in the past three years.
It was a disappointment but by wrapping up the season with a sound 10-0 thumping of Show Low, the Horns stamped themselves a team capable of making a run in the tournament had it received a berth.
That point was further emphasized by the fact that Safford a squad the Horns whipped 22-6 during the regular season advanced to the playoffs from the weak South region.
With four teams in the state's elite eight, the East is once again on the doorsteps of proclaiming itself the most competitive region in Class 3A football.
In the past six years, Blue Ridge has won four state crowns, Show Low one (1999) and Payson one (1998).