Thanks to a 45-0 win over the Holbrook Roadrunners, Payson can all but assure itself of a berth in the state tournament Friday evening (Oct. 13) with a win over the Snowflake Lobos.
To earn a fourth consecutive state seed, the Longhorns must finish the season among the East region's top four. With Friday's victory over the homestanding Roadrunners, the Horns currently sport 2-1 East credentials. Another victory would likely propel Payson into the fourth place in the standings with a pair of games remaining against Blue Ridge (Oct.) and defending state champion Show Low (10-27).
If Payson beats Snowflake, but loses to both the Jackets and Cougars, the team could hold onto the fourth and final state seed. The only chink in Payson plans would be if Snowflake upsets favored Round Valley Oct. 20.
If that happens, a three-way tie for third and fourth place involving Snowflake, Round Valley and Payson would result.
In such a scenario, a coin flip would probably be used to determine the East's final two-seeds to state.
The Horns could simplify the entire playoff situation for themselves if they would win their final three games and proceed to state as a top-two seed.
But, that's a tall order to fill considering powerful Blue Ridge (6-0) is top-ranked and Show Low (4-2) is on a roll after a slow start.
In Friday evening games, Blue Ridge pummeled Snowflake 45-0 and Show Low edged highly regarded Round Valley 21-14.
Whipping the Runners
Playing without two-way starters Dusty Brockett and Caleb Miller who were both sidelined with injuries the Horns relied on a strong running game and a solid defense to overwhelm the homestanding Roadrunners (1-5 overall, 0-4 in the East).
Levi Armstrong paced the Horns' power option offense piling up 64 yards on 12 carries. His lone touchdown of the evening, which occurred with 4:32 remaining in the second quarter, broke upon a scoreless tie and proved to be the jump start the Horns needed.
Just two minutes later, defensive end O.J. Siebert's tackle in the end zone tacked a two-point safety on the Longhorn lead.
Clinging to a slim 9-0 cushion at half-time, the Horn cause received a huge third-quarter boost when safety Waylon Pettet scooped up a Siebert-caused Holbrook fumble and raced 60 yards to paydirt.
Later in the half, a 12-yard run by fullback Steve Williamson on a draw play and an 8-yard scamper by Alex Cortez upped the Horns' victory margin to 35 points.
Sophomore Josh Heglie, a longtime local soccer star, filled in for Brockett as the Horn kicker and converted three of five PATs.
In the air
With the Longhorn ground game grinding out good chunks of yardage, Payson signal caller Ky Bradley was called upon to unleash just 10 attempts. He completed four with one interception.
Bradley's aerial performance was down over last week when he completed 13 of 19 passes for two touchdowns in a 34-6 win over Alchesay.
Defensively, the Horns while holding Holbrook scoreless limited the Runners to 30 rushing yards and 34 through their airways.
Holbrook's 64 yards of total offense coupled with last week's showing against Alchesay (65 yards), has the Horn 'D' on track as it prepares for the showdown against Snowflake.
If there was a downside in the 35-point victory, it was the 11 penalties and 125 yards the Horns were flagged for. Among the citations were six personal fouls that accounted for 90 yards. One Payson player was ejected from the game.
But the Longhorns weren't alone in the maze of tickets given out by the flag-happy officials. Holbrook was ticketed 10 times for 86.5 yards.