Round Valley High School football coach John Dryden might be eagerly anticipating today's trip to Payson. That's because the jaunt will put miles between the coach and a band of Eagar/Springerville malcontents who choose to express their dissatisfaction from the stands, on their computers and in the community's watering holes.
Evidence of the pressure the RV coach has been under exists on a White Mountain website that features a "Smack Board" where disgruntled gridiron fans are free to air their opinions.
A Wednesday entry on the Smack Board was entitled "Who will be the next RV coach?"
Dryden's critics might have been silenced a tad Friday evening after the Elks took highly favored Show Low into overtime before losing 21-14.
Few had given RV, which now sports 2-3 credentials, a chance of give the unbeaten Cougars (6-0) much competition.
Round Valley hasn't whipped the Cougars since the early 1990s and this year's Show Low team appears to be a legitimate title contender.
Round Valley dominated the first half, building a 14-0 lead.
In the third quarter, Show Low came roaring back to tie the contest at 14.
After a wild and woolly fourth quarter that saw both teams on the edge of a brawl and at least one player ejected, the contest was sent into overtime.
In an Arizona prep OT playoff, each team was given four plays from the 10-yard line.
Show Low took first possession and scored on third down. The extra point kick was good.
Round Valley then had the opportunity to duplicate the TD and conversion, but couldn't punch the ball into the end zone on its four plays.
If tonight's game provides the same kind of fireworks, local fans are in for a barn burner.
If comparative scores can be used as a measuring stick, the Horns (2-3) might own a slight edge over the Elks.
Against a common opponent, St. Johns, Payson was beaten 26-6. Round Valley fell to the Redskins by a whopping 49-7 margin.
Whichever team has the advantage in manpower, one fact is almost certain if Payson loses, the Longhorns might have kissed the state playoffs goodbye.
At the conclusion of the season, the top four teams from the six-school East region will be awarded seeds to state. To finish at least fourth and advance to state, an East team will need a minimum of two wins.
The Longhorns blew the opportunity to nail down at least one East triumph when they lost 36-15 last week to Snowflake.
With that loss, the Longhorns must now try to emerge victorious this evening and again next Friday against Whiteriver Alchesay.
Those two wins would probably relegate RV and Alchesay to fifth and sixth place and lift the Horns to a fourth-place playoff slot.
The Horns can't wait until the final two games of the season to qualify for state since victories in those clashes will be hard to come by. The Horns are slated to visit top-ranked and defending state champion Blue Ridge Oct. 18. The Horns travel Oct. 26 to third-ranked Show Low where the two longtime rivals will wrap up the regular season.
Tonight, it's do or die for the Longhorns. A victory over the Elks keeps the team alive and well in the state tournament chase. A loss could signal an end to the playoff run.
What'll it take
To beat Round Valley, the Horns will have to eliminate the mistakes that occurred in the loss to Snowflake when two interceptions and a fumble proved costly .
Also, defensive coordinator Jack Morris' bandits will have to shut down any passing game the Elks bring to town. In the Snowflake clash, the Lobos scored two passing touchdowns early in the game one on a 59-yard reception.
Those scores put the Horns in a hole they were never able to dig themselves out of.
The PHS offensive lineup sports a potent weapon to use this evening in the form of senior fullback Levi Armstrong.
In five games, Armstrong has piled up more than 667 yards from scrimmage. Most of it (588) has been racked up on his 85 rushing attempts (6.9 average).
If the offensive line can control the line of scrimmage and allow Armstrong to pile up chunks of yardage, Payson's chances for a victory will be greatly improved.
The Longhorns also sport another offensive threat in running back Waylon Pettet. The youngster has the speed and elusiveness to score any time he touches the ball.
At the controls of the Horn "O" is quarterback Ky Bradley a heady, veteran signal caller. When Bradley is called upon to throw the ball, his favorite target so far has been sophomore tight end Mike Barr. With nine receptions for 159 yards and two touchdowns, he's been a solid receiver most of the season. Bradley also has booked up with wide receivers Nate Perna (four receptions), Jake Swartwood (four) and wingback Waylon Quotskuyva (one).
Kick off this evening is 7 p.m. PHS Athletic Director is asking spectators to bring folding chairs since stadium seating is limited.