The mind-boggling chore of Longhorn football players this practice week has been to muster the motivation to play a foe that's been outscored 221-7 its past four games.
In Holbrook this evening (Friday), the Horns take on a bent and bruised Roadrunner squad that's fallen to Round Valley (54-0), Blue Ridge (56-0), Snowflake (56-0) and Ganado (55-7).
In Holbrook's dismal campaign, the only bright spot has been a 25-0 season opening win over Winslow.
A string of four consecutive lopsided losses would curtail the enthusiasm of most any prep player. But, the Runners can take some solace in the fact all the defeats have been to state powerhouses.
The Runners' back-breaking, early season schedule has included Blue Ridge which is currently 5-0 and ranked number-one in the state. Round Valley (4-1) is second-ranked and Ganado (4-1) fourth.
Snowflake was rolling along unbeaten and state-ranked until last Friday when defending 3A champion Show Low knocked off the Lobos 27-0.
Looking at the Runner schedule, it's obvious the athletic director who put it together has plenty of reasons to second-guess himself.
Payson (3-2 overall, 1-1 in the East) enters tonight's fray fresh off a 34-6 homecoming win over Alchesay. The victory righted a Longhorn ship that had been listing after back-to-back losses to Round Valley (28-7) and St. Johns (14-7).
Now that Payson is back on course, the Horns must continue to win again this evening if they are to keep alive any realistic chances of earning a berth in the state tournament with a top-four East finish.
Even if the Horns whip lowly Holbrook, the team will need an upset over either Snowflake (Oct. 13), Blue Ridge (Oct. 20) or Show Low (Oct. 27) to advance to state.
In the win over Alchesay, the Horns put on a display of aerial wizardry that could bode well for them in their quest for a fourth consecutive state tournament berth.
Engineering the newfound passing game was junior signal caller Cade Bradley who threw for 267 yards including touchdown passes to Scotty Garduno and Waylon Pettet.
Following the contest, coach Mike Wheelis said throwing the ball was a big part of the game plan because films and scouting reports indicated Alchesay's defensive backfield could not match Horn receivers Dusty Brockett, Garduno and Pettet.
The passing game
Whether the Horns choose to continue to air out the ball tonight as they did against Alchesay won't be known until the 7 p.m. kickoff time.
"We'll throw if we have to," assistant coach Jack Morris said.
The passing game does, however, add another dimension to Payson's ground-oriented power-option offense in that defenders can't jam-pack the line of scrimmage to stop the run a la St. Johns and Round Valley.
The coaching decision on whether to continue to escalate the aerial game might be made a little easier by the presence of Bradley who's completed 51.5 percent of his passes and has been intercepted only twice this season.
If the Horn coaching staff decides to abandon the airways and play smash-mouth football, tailback Levi Armstrong and fullback Steve Williamson will undoubtedly shoulder most of the ball-carrying chores.
Armstrong enters the game as the Horns leading rusher with 346 yards on 74 attempts (4.7 avg.). Williamson averages 4.1 per carry with 143 yards on 35 carries.
The pair will run behind a good offensive line that recently earned praise from Wheelis.
"They were much improved against Alchesay," he said.
Expected to start on the "O" line are Rocky Beery (center), Cory McRae (left guard), Levi Amon (right guard), Sterling White (right tackle) and Jeremy Greenberg (left tackle).
Unless Holbrook comes up with a new look, the line will be called upon to block the traditional 52 defense that the Runners have used most of the campaign.
The 52 is a base defense which features four linemen and two linebackers that has been around since the 1950s.
Because Holbrook canceled its jayvee program due to disciplinary problems, the unbeaten Payson junior varsity did not play its traditional Thursday evening game. The PHS jayvees currently stand 5-0 after walloping Alchesay 46-6 last week.
The freshman team, coached by Pete Greer and David Daniels, played host to Holbrook yesterday (Thursday) at 4:30 p.m. (Results were not available at press time.) The frosh improved their record to 4-1 Sept. 28 in Whiteriver with a 28-16 win over Alchesay.