Payson's high-powered power option "O" that spewed out 75 points and 500 yards of total offense in two season-opening victories over Safford and Canyon State, sputtered to a halt Friday evening in a 14-7 upset loss to the St. Johns Redskins.
With the defeat, the Longhorns fell to 2-1 under new coach Mike Wheelis and must now prepare for the reality of jumping cleats first into rugged East region play Friday evening in Eagar against Round Valley.
The clash which kicks off at 7 p.m. in the RV dome will be the East opener for the Longhorns but the Elks have a region game under their belt Friday's overtime thriller over Alchesay.
If comparative scores are a good measure of choosing a favorite, Payson and Round Valley have faced a common opponent this season. The Elks defeated St. Johns their longtime rivals 28-13 in the nightcap of a rare triple-header played Sept. 2 in the RV dome.
The Elk victory lends credence to the argument that RV should be slight favorites to edge Payson when the Friday night lights are turned on in the dome.
But talk with St. Johns coach Mike Morgan and he'll tell you the Redskins who had three touchdowns called back in the loss are now a better team than Round Valley.
Whichever team RV or Payson emerges victorious Friday night in Eagar will have a jump start in the East race with league toughies Blue Ridge and Show Low waiting in the wings.
So, fans are asking, what happened to the once potent Payson offense in Friday night's loss?
The demise of the Longhorns might have revolved around the defensive schemes of longtime St. Johns coach Mike Morgan.
Unleashing both 5-3 and 4-3 defenses, the Redskins were content to keep their three linebackers at home allowing them to thwart Payson's option plays in the flats.
Also, Morgan's charges almost always keyed the footwork of quarterback Ky Bradley by slanting defensive linemen away from Bradley's reverse pivots.
Sometimes that philosophy worked against the Redskins but on most occasions it propelled the defensive linemen into the Horns' running lanes.
Morgan's game plan and the efforts of his players held the Payson running attack to just 105 yards on 34 attempts. Tailback Levi Armstrong led the way with 83 yards on 18 carries.
Through the airways, Bradley was reasonably successful, connecting on eight of 18 attempts for 101 yards.
Although the evening was a defensive struggle, the Redskins did bring to Payson a different offensive wrinkle.
A devoted wishbone coach, Morgan has kept the offense he ran two decades ago at Ganado but this season has added slot I formations that gives defenders much more to think about. His offense also features a one-back set that is used mostly for screens and quick traps.
The revamped offense was good enough to produce 342 yards and two first-half touchdowns.
The Redskins opened the scoring with 5:10 remaining in the first quarter on a 54-yard pass from Vince Morgan to Kyle Wahl. The conversion kick gave the Skins a 7-0 lead.
With 9:07 remaining in the first half, St. Johns upped the count to 14-0 on a one-yard run by Vince Morgan and a successful point-after kick.
Payson's lone score, a one-yard run by Bradley which was followed by Dusty Brockett's PAT kick came with 5:22 to go in the second quarter.
In the second half, the Horns tried to rally through the airways but the aerial attack despite 13 pass attempts never produced the offense needed for a game-tying score.