Longhorns Face Tough Challenge Against Top-Ranked Yellow Jackets

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The most powerful juggernaut in Class 3A football visits Payson High School this evening, scratchin' and clawin' to add more roadkill to an already impressive list of prey.

State No. 1 ranked and unbeaten Blue Ridge (7-0) brings to Payson eye-popping pigskin credentials that include six consecutive shut outs.

After whipping Coolidge 37-14 in the regular season opener Sept. 1, the Yellow Jackets went on a rampage, blanking Williams (55-0), Show Low (31-0), Holbrook (56-0), Ganado (28-0), Snowflake (45-0) and Alchesay (53-0).

The most impressive victories in the streak were over defending state champion Show Low which was an odds-on favorite to repeat the title and state third-ranked Ganado.

In the White Mountains, where Blue Ridge High School is housed, football fans are declaring the Jackets unstoppable.

If tradition is the foundation of a winning program, as coaches say, the Yellow Jackets are sitting on a solid foundation of champions.

The Jacket football program first flexed its collective muscle in 1971 when Pennsylvania-native Joe Girardi took over the reins of the program and quickly built it into a state championship contender.

After Girardi left BR in 1975 to coach on the college level in Kansas, White Mountain prep fans were ready to proclaim him the "Lombardi of prep football." The legendary coach died Dec. 7, 1982 in an automobile accident near Winslow.

At least two of the athletes Girardi coached are back in Lakeside helping Paul Moro who in 1996 was Arizona's Coach of the Year mold today's version of the Yellow Jackets.

Relying on consistency and tradition, the staff has produced teams that have won seven state championships in the past 15 years. On two occasions one of which was 1998 when Payson won the state crown the Jackets finished as runner-up.

Prior to the onset of the 2000 football season, unknowing fans might have been led to believe the Yellow Jackets were about to experience an off season due to heavy graduation losses the previous spring.

But in Lakeside, they don't rebuild they reload.

The Jackets are back at the top of state polls and ready to make a run at another state championship.

In Payson, the Jackets will be taking on a team that could be reeling from last week's disappointing 12-7 loss to Snowflake. That defeat all but eliminated the Horns from earning one of the East's four state tournament berths.

For Payson to enjoy any type of success against Blue Ridge's vaunted defense, quarterback Ky Bradley will have to engineer the power option offense to success on the ground and through the airways.

In seven games, Bradley has completed 40 of 86 passes for 575 yards and four touchdowns. He's also been intercepted on five occasions, two of which occurred in the loss to Snowflake.

When Bradley's called up to hand off on the powers, slams and options, the pigskin will often go to senior Levi Armstrong or sophomore Waylon Pettet.

Armstrong enters the game as the Horns leading rusher with 409 yards.

Pettet, his cousin, was impressive against Snowflake, finishing with 109 yards. One of Pettet's carries, on a counter play, resulted in a 51-yard touchdown run the Horns only TD of the game. His performance could have earned more playing time at tailback.

Defensively, Payson sports several youngsters who have shown well this year including Reed Hatch, Caleb Miller, O.J. Siebert, Cory McRae, Sterling White and others.

The defender's daunting task will be to slow the Yellow Jackets' offense that was bolstered this year by the transfer of running back Kenly Ries from Show Low to Blue Ridge.

Following tonight's 7 p.m. clash, the Horns will wrap up the regular season at home, Oct. 27 against Show Low.

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