State Showdown Kicks Off; Horns Draw Devils

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State tournament seedings are in and 16 Arizona high school football teams are primed to begin pursuit of a Class 3A gridiron championship.

The Payson Longhorns are among the qualifiers who will be battling for postseason honors.

The Longhorns open the tournament at 7 p.m. this evening (Friday) in PHS stadium against the Santa Cruz Dust Devils.

Around the state, seven other opening round games will be played at the home site of the highest seed.

On Nov. 16, the winners of the first round will advance to quarterfinals on the campus of Mesa College. The tournament culminates with the championship finale at 7 p.m. Nov. 24 at Tempe McClintock High School.

Although Santa Cruz and Payson have not met the past two seasons, the two are no strangers to one another. From 1995 to 1998, when both teams were members of the now defunct Central Division, the two locked horns on a regular basis.

As the East region's third-place finisher, the Horns (5-4 overall, 3-2 in the East) enter post-season play the tournament's eighth seed.

Santa Cruz was seeded ninth into the tournament after finishing 5-4 and the South Region's number-three team.

If the Longhorns have a weapon to turn on the Dust Devils, it's senior fullback Levi Armstrong.

All season, Armstrong paced the PHS offense with his running between the tackles where real estate is tough to come by.

In last Friday's 27-7 win over Show Low, Armstrong surpassed the magical 1,000 yards rushing mark by racking up 132 yards on 24 carries.

With 1,025 yards on 159 attempts, he's averaged more than 131 yards per game. Armstrong is also the team's leading scorer with 78 points and is tops in all purpose yards (1588).

Although he's the main cog in the "O," the Horns sport another legitimate threat in junior halfback Waylon Pettet.

With 391 yards on 56 yards, Pettet boasts an impressive 7.0 yards per carry average. That mark is almost one yard better than Armstrong's.

When coach Steve Saban has gone to the airways, senior quarterback Ky Bradley has responded with a 63.2 ranking. In 84 attempts, he's completed 39 passes for 593 yards and seven touchdowns.

Bradley's favorite targets have been Armstrong and sophomore tight end Mike Barr. Both have 12 receptions, but Barr is the yardage leader with an average of 20.3 per catch. Armstrong has averaged 13.3.

Defensively, the Horns have been led by senior inside linebacker Levi Amon.

According to defensive coordinator Jack Morris, Amon got off to a slow start this season, but improved enough to become the team's best linebacker.

Other defensive stalwarts among Morris's bandits include Shawn Pickle and Bradley.

Playing noseguard in the Horns 52 defense, Pickle has consistently disrupted opponents' offensives with his quickness and determination.

In addition to Bradley's duties as a signal caller, he's shined at both linebacker and strong safety.

It's not often coaches ask their quarterbacks to go both ways, but Bradley has handled the double duty responsibilities well, coaches say.

Other tournament games involving East teams include 16th seeded Monument Valley at top-ranked, unbeaten East champion Blue Ridge and 14th seeded Chandler Seton against East runner-up Snowflake. The Lobos earned a three seed into the tournament.

Show Low, 11th seeded, will travel to six-seed Wilcox.

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