A victory this evening (Friday) in Whiteriver would nail down a playoff berth for the Payson Longhorn football team.
The team currently sports 3-3 credentials, 1-1 in the region, but all it takes for an East team to advance to state is two wins. That's because an Arizona Interscholastic Association realignment last spring reduced the East region to just six teams. Under the realignment, only two teams from the East will not advance to state.
Since both Round Valley and Alchesay are winless in the East, they will most likely be the teams left out of the season-ending showdown.
The Horns picked up their first regional triumph of the season Friday evening in a 34-14 win over Round Valley.
That victory, coupled with another this evening over Alchesay who will be celebrating homecoming would ensure the Horns of a fourth-place seed into the state tournament.
Advancing to post-season play has been a goal of the Longhorn underclassmen since last season when the team, which finished 5-5, was denied a berth after reaching the playoffs five consecutive years.
A fourth-place seed, however, would not bode well for the Horns in the power-point ranking system that is being used, for the first time, in the 3A conference.
The number-four berth would probably mean the Horns would be paired against a top seed.
Under the new power-point system, that opponent could quite possibly be defending state champion and top-ranked Blue Ridge.
If that scenario unfolds, it would mean Payson would play the powerful Yellow Jackets twice in a three-week period.
The two teams meet in a regular season encounter Oct. 19 and the state tournament begins Nov. 2.
If the Horns opening round state tournament opponent is a top seed from another region like Wickenburg or Parker Payson would be primed to pull off an upset that could send the team into second round play.
Almost every prep season, there are underdogs who rise from the gridiron ashes to make noise in the state tournament.
Steve Saban, the Longhorn's head coach, said he is convinced his team could be one of those to create a stir in post-season play.
"Once your in the tournament, anything can happen," he said.
Horns visit Falcons
Before the Horns can look down the road to the post-season, the team must take care of business tonight in Whiteriver.
One of the coaches' tasks during the past practice week, defensive coordinator Jack Morris said, was to be sure the players didn't look past Alchesay because of its lowly reputation.
One week ago, the Falcons were thoroughly demoralized in a 64-0 loss to Snowflake.
And that score could have been even more lopsided had not the Snowflake coaches called the dogs off after watching quarterback Porter Caldwell throw for six touchdowns in the first half.
Alchesay enters the game with respectable 3-3 credentials, but all its wins have been over less than formidable Northern Arizona reservation schools where football takes a distant back seat to basketball.
Also, scouting reports the Payson coaching staff received this week indicate the Falcons could be struggling through some inner turmoil.
Several of the team's better players were recently dismissed from the squad for allegedly breaking team and school rules, Morris said.
Even if Alchesay is outmanned by Payson, the Horns must continue to execute Saban's Wing-T offense with the same efficiency they did in last week's win over Round Valley.
With fullback Levi Armstrong pounding the ball inside and quarterback Ky Bradley executing the boot and waggle plays around end, the team steamrolled over the Elks in the second half.
Defensively, Morris bandits are set to shut down the Falcon's offense that has been sporadic at best.
A key to the success of Morris' 52 "D", which features a five-man line and two linebackers, has been Bradley's play. Playing both strong safety and linebacker, Bradley has been a tough nut for opponents to crack.
According to Morris, his charges will be looking for the run when the Falcons line up in an I formation. And when Alchesay is in a wishbone, oddly enough, Payson will be protecting against the pass.
Traditionally, the wishbone has been a running formation, but scouting reports indicate the Falcons are using it to unleash their aerial game.
If the Horns emerge victorious this evening, they would have the opportunity to improve their playoff seed, and gain power ranking points in the final two games against unbeaten Blue Ridge and Show Low (Oct. 26).
In early season play, Show Low built a 6-0 record and appeared to be a powerhouse capable of making a run at the East crown. But the Cougars 64-0 loss to Blue Ridge last week proves that the cats are mere mortals on the prep gridiron scene.