Shaking off the sobering effects of watching their country under attack, the Payson Longhorn football team took out its frustrations Friday evening on the Holbrook Roadrunners.
During an emotion-packed evening in which the thoughts of the fans, players and coaches were obviously directed toward the victims of the terrorists attacks, the Horns rocked the Roadrunners 46-0.
Earlier in the day, jayvee/varsity player Billy Bob Hoyt got permission from coach Steve Saban to have the team carry the flag into the pre-game ceremonies. Hoyt, a sophomore, brought a flag to school and placed it in the old wrestling room.
Moments before kickoff, while the players were warming up in the high school weight room, Sean Pickle and Waylon Pettet departed the session to retrieve the flag, which billowed on a staff held high as Pickle led the team on to the field. The sight produced more than a few tears among the crowd of onlookers from both Payson and Holbrook.
The dramatic evening continued to unfold with the PHS chorus singing the national anthem and a lighting of candles to honor those who perished in the attacks.
Senior running break Levi Armstrong, who turned in a career-best effort of 197 yards rushing, said he was looking forward to kickoff knowing he would then probably be able to focus on the task at hand. But, he said, "(the terrorist strike) was always stuck in the back of my mind."
Pettet said he was glad to play the game, but also could never fully put the tragedy out of his thoughts.
"Football has meant so much to me all my life," he said, "but this taught me how insignificant it is on the scale of things."
Defensive coordinator Jack Morris said that the week's events will never be erased from memory, but the players did an admirable job of playing in difficult circumstances.
A plan is in the works to have American flag decals placed, for the remainder of the season, on each player's helmet. That, Armstrong said, would be the athletes' way of showing respect for the victims of the tragedy.
The victory gave Saban his first triumph triumph after an 0-2 start. The coach said he was delighted with the win but, more importantly, reveled in the team's spirited style of play it hadn't shown in two early season losses.
Saban and his charges will look to improve their record to the break even mark Friday evening in PHS stadium against the Tuba City Warriors. Kickoff is 7 p.m.
The varsity showdown will be preceded Thursday by a 4:30 p.m. freshman game in PHS stadium against Phoenix Christian. Also Thursday, the PHS jayvee team will travel to Tuba City for a 5 p.m. kick off.
After scoring twice in the first quarter on a 22-yard aerial from Ky Bradley to tight end Mike Barr, and a 19-yard pass to Nate Perna from Bradley, there never was much doubt the Horns were going to breeze to a victory.
At halftime, the Horns upped the count to 26-0 on a 52-yard run off a dive play by Levi Armstrong. With 3:54 remaining in the first half on a smash play Armstrong scored again on a two-yard run.
Saban's Wing-T running game continued to produce dividends in the second half when Pettet scored on a 61-yard sweep right, Josh Heglie tallied on a 37-yard scamper and wingback Waylon Quotskuyva broke loose on a counter. His TD run covered 45 yards.
The score might have been even more lopsided had the Horns been able to avoid the penalty bug.
During the course of the evening, Payson was flagged 15 times for 162 yards and had two touchdowns called back. Saban said he wasn't overly concerned with the penalties because the team was playing an aggressive, attacking style of football that sometimes results in a bevy of early-season flags.
"We'll work on (ending) those (penalties)," the coach said.
In addition to a career-best performance from Armstrong, the Horns received a stellar outing from his younger cousin Waylon Pettet.
The junior halfback, known for his speed and elusive moves, racked up 127 yards on 11 carries.
The air game, which was virtually non-existent last week in a loss to Wickenburg, churned out 84 yards and two touchdowns. As the Horns senior signal-caller most of the evening, Bradley completed six of 10 passes and had one intercepted.
Defensively, assistant coach Jack Morris's bandits held the Roadrunners to 53 yards of total offense.
Most startling is the fact the Runners did not pick up a first down on their own. The six first downs they recorded all came courtesy of the Longhorns via penalties.
Defensive player of the game honors usually aren't doled out, but if Morris was choosing such a player it would be 180-pound noseguard Sean Pickle.
"He dominated Holbrook," Morris said. "They tried two (different) centers but nobody could block him."
In freshman action Thursday afternoon in PHS stadium, the young Longhorns improved their record to 3-0 in a 44-0 drubbing of the Queen Creek Bulldogs.
Watching from the sidelines was former PHS football coach Curt LeBlanc who now is the first-year head coach at Queen Creek. LeBlanc witnessed the Horn plebes pound the Dogs into submission behind a powerful running game fueled by Tyler Williams.
Refusing to be slowed by one, two or even three Queen Creek tacklers, Williams paced the Horns with three touchdowns. Two were scored on breakaway runs and a third on a 75-yard kickoff return. Payson also scored on a 40-yard interception return by Josh Quotskuyva and TD scampers by James Gibson and Nate Lee.
Meril Weisser showed he might have the leg to become a varsity kicking threat by toeing a 20-yard field gold. Defensively, Kevin Knapp had an interception and Ryan Edwards, a fumble recovery.
The junior varsity team also improved its record to 3-0 in a 60-6 humbling of the Roadrunners. Played in PHS stadium rather than Holbrook as originally scheduled, the Horns scored on Billy Bob Hoyt's opening kickoff return, and never looked back. The game was moved to Payson because of renovations taking place on the Holbrook field.