"The Waylon Pettet Show" is how Payson High School assistant coach Jack Morris summed up the Longhorns 62-41 state tournament opening round win over Eloy Santa Cruz.
For those who watched the Horns victory Friday evening in PHS stadium, it's understandable why the defensive coordinator was doling out a plaudit usually reserved for stars of TV screen.
Pettet a junior halfback with more elusive moves than O.J. Simpson on the witness stand put on a display of athleticism that hasn't been witnessed in Payson since the days scatback Tom Fruth led the Longhorns to the 1981 state football championship.
Following the game, Pettet, 17, said the evening was the best gridiron outing he's turned in since he first began playing football for the Payson Bears as a six-year-old.
His heroics included a whopping 237 yards rushing on 18 carries. But the evening's exploits didn't stop there.
With 10:52 remaining in the second quarter and the Horns clinging to a precarious 13-8 lead, Pettet fielded a Santa Cruz kick off at the four-yard line.
On a middle return, after picking up two numbing blocks from teammates Sean Pickle and Nate Perna, Pettet broke four tackles on his way to a 96-yard kickoff return.
"I saw the blocks, Nate and Sean leveled them, so I pulled in the ball and just kept running up the middle," Pettet said.
For Morris, the electricity of the run was worth witnessing over and over the following day on video tapes.
"It was really something. Everyone should see it," the coach said.
In addition to Pettet's career-high rushing mark and the dazzling kickoff return, he also was on the receiving end of a hook-and-ladder or hitch-and-pitch trick play that resulted in an 80 yard touchdown.
The play, which was executed to perfection last week in a regular season-ending 27-7 win over Show Low, began when quarterback Ky Bradley took the snap from the center and tossed a short pass in the left flat to wide receiver Nate Perna.
After the catch, Perna turned his back to the defense and lateraled almost perfectly to Pettet who was darting upfield about five yards away.
After hauling in the lateral, Pettet danced his way past the confused Santa Cruz defense to pay dirt. The Horn's gridiron Houdini act, coupled with Chad McRae's successful conversion kick, upped Payson's lead to 34-8.
Also in Pettet's long list of contributions to the victory were touchdown runs of 67 and 39 yards.
Probably the most dazzling of all his accomplishments came at game's end after longtime stat keeper Bill Lawson had compiled the contest's results. Lawson determined that Pettet had accounted for 413 net yards of offense.
Official 3A state records concerning such marks by an individual player are not kept. But if they were, Pettet's record would probably be among the best ever turned in by a prep athlete.
An added benefit of his head turning gridiron display is that it has to be giving fits to Blue Ridge coaches as they prepare for Thursday's second-round state tournament game against the Longhorns.
Kickoff for the crucial showdown will be at 5 p.m. Thursday at Mesa Community College.
Star sidelined after half
With Pettet now a legitimate offensive threat in the Longhorn arsenal, Blue Ridge coaches won't be able to focus all their defensive efforts on Payson's senior fullback Levi Armstrong.
Entering the Santa Cruz game, Armstrong represented the Horns' biggest weapon. With 1023 rushing yards and a team high 96 points scored, he was one of the most accomplished running backs in the East region.
A cut foot, however, limited his effectiveness against Eloy, which held him to 23 yards rushing on six carries. At halftime, Morris said, coaches asked Armstrong to sit out the remainder of the game and save his energies for Blue Ridge. PHS coaches say they anticipate Armstrong's injury will be healed by Thursday and he'll return to the starting lineup.
The Horns victory over SC improves the team's overall record to 6-4.
In other first-round state tournament games involving East region teams, Blue Ridge pounded Monument Valley 62-0 and Snowflake thumped Chandler Seton 34-0. In both games, it was the aerial game that paced the East teams to victories. For Snowflake, Porter Caldwell completed 13 of 22 passes for 215 yards.
In the unbeaten and top-ranked Yellow Jackets win, Adam Moro, coach Paul Moro's son, completed 14 of 17 passes for 186 yards.
Show Low the only East team to lose fell to Wilcox 30-0. Show Low entered the state tournament as the East's fourth-place finisher. Payson advanced as the region's bronze medalist and Snowflake qualified as the East runner-up. The Lobos lost a regular season-ending showdown, 33-26, to East champion Blue Ridge
In other state tournament games, state second-ranked Coolidge ran wild over Holbrook 74-0, Ganado upset North champion Winslow 20-9, Parker edged River Valley 26-13 and Wickenburg ran past Fountain Hills 24-14.
All second round games will be played Thursday and Friday at Mesa College.