An element of retribution and redemption could be on the minds of veteran Lobo players when they play host to the Payson Longhorns at 7 p.m. this evening.
That's because Lobo lettermen have been saddled the past year with a dubious distinction they'd rather not own they are the only Snowflake varsity players to ever lose a football game to Payson.
For almost 30 years, the Lobos dominated the Longhorns on the gridiron, winning every varsity clash between the two teams.
During the stint, Payson sported two undefeated state championship teams (1981 and 1998) but oddly enough in both seasons, the teams did not play one another.
Oct. 15, 1999 in Payson High stadium, the Longhorns finally shut down Snowflake's Rim country football party with a 26-23 victory.
Losing to a long-time underdog was made doubly tough for the once-proud Lobos by the frustrating manner in which they were defeated.
The nail-biting scenario began to unfold with 1:36 remaining in the game when Lobo Josh Jacobson scored on a five-yard aerial from Snowflake's red-hot quarterback Jeff Reidhead.
The TD erased Payson's precarious 20-17 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, with the clock running down, Payson took control of the ball on its own 35-yard line.
With senior Kyle Conway calmly at the controls, the Horns began their game-winning march mixing short passes and running plays.
The well-executed drive took the Horns quickly to the Lobo five-yard line, where Payson faced a crucial fourth-down situation with three seconds remaining.
With fans on both sides hootin' and hollerin' as if they were holding the winning lottery ticket, a time out was signaled by Snowflake.
During the break, the Horn coaching staff opted to kick a game-tying field goal which, if successful, would have forced the game into overtime.
But, Horn coach Jim Beall who has since resignedscrapped that plan and opted instead to attempt a play action pass. The dubious gamble paid huge dividends when Conway, after faking a dive, uncorked a perfectly thrown spiral to wide receiver Dusty Brockett who was alone running a curl route in the end zone.
Brockett's catch lifted the Horns to the victory and put an end to the long misery Payson had suffered at the paws of the Lobos.
In addition to suffering through the heartbreak of defeat that evening, the Snowflake contingent could only stand and watch in disbelief as Payson fans swarmed the field to congratulate the victorious Longhorns. The most animated among the celebrants were members of the PHS soccer team. Many were shirtless, twirling their garb over their heads, much like one U.S. women's player did while celebrating victory in the World Cup.
A new season
That cool, crisp Rim country fall evening was a great sports moment for victory-hungry Payson fans. But now, the win is a memory and all eyes are focused on Snowflake where the Longhorns will try to make it two "Ws" in a row.
If the Horns (4-2 overall, 2-1 in the East) can emerge victorious in Lobo-land, the team will almost assure itself of at least a fourth-place finish in the East region and a berth in the season-ending state tournament.
However, a loss to Snowflake would end any realistic hopes Payson has of reaching the state showdown.
For the Lobos (4-2 overall, 2-2 in the East), the clash also represents the opportunity to nail down a state tournament seed.
The importance of the game for both teams might be summed up in the age-old cliche "Must Win."
Under first-year Snowflake coach Jim Wright, a former junior college coach in the Phoenix area, the Lobos opened the season in impressive fashion, defeating Chino Valley (41-0), Globe (25-21), Holbrook (56-6) and Alchesay (41-8).
But the wheels quickly came of the Lobo victory wagon the last two weeks in back-to-back losses to Show Low (28-0) and Blue Ridge (45-0).
Payson enters the clash fresh off a pair of victories over Alchesay (34-6) and Holbrook (35-0).
The Horns' two defeats this season were to Class 2A power St. Johns (14-7) and East rival Round Valley (28-7).
Based on early season results, tonight's game appears to be a tossup.
After Snowflake, the going doesn't get any easier for the Longhorns. Top-ranked and undefeated Blue Ridge visits Payson Oct. 20. One week later, in the regular season finale, defending state champion and state fourth-ranked Show Low brings its gridiron act to the Rim country. Kickoff is 7 p.m. for both games.