by Max Foster
roundup staff reporter
The opportunity to regain respectability on the state's prep football scene awaits the Longhorns tonight in PHS Stadium.
A win over visiting Tuba City would even the Horns' season credentials to 2-2 and erase some of the sting the team suffered in season-opening losses to St. Johns (26-6) and Wickenburg (21-12).
The Horns set the stage for tonight's opportunity by rebounding last week to whip Holbrook 46-0.
Steve Saban, in his first year at the helm of the program, is predicting that if the Horns can maintain the intensity they showed in whipping the Roadrunners, the team will do well against Tuba City.
Since he was hired last summer, one of Saban's goals was to have the team play with reckless abandon. The players, however, didn't show that type of aggressiveness until the Holbrook game, he said.
Much of the defensive credit for that change in attitude went to senior noseguard Sean Pickle.
"He disrupted them so much, he made Holbrook look like a much worse team than it (is)," Saban said.
This evening, if Pickle has another game in which he wreaks havoc on the opposing center, the Warriors could be in for a long evening.
Defensive coordinator Jack Morris, a former Longhorn player, says he is confident his bandits in their base 52 defense can contain the Tuba City offense and keep the Warriors out of the end zone.
Offensively, the Horns feature a strong running game fueled by cousins Levi Armstrong and Waylon Pettet.
Armstrong, a senior fullback, is a workhorse who leads the team in rushing with 47 carries for 347 yards a 7.4 average.
He also led the team in yards from scrimmage with 392. That mark represents a 130.7 per game average.
A junior halfback known for his speed and shifty moves, Pettet has rushed for 214 yards in 28 carries a 7.6 average.
Payson's air game was virtually nonexistent until the Holbrook showdown, during which Ky Bradley got the Horns off and running with touchdown passes to tight end Mike Barr and wide receiver Nate Perna.
For Saban's Wing-T offense to click, Bradley will have to continue to find his receivers, especially on the boot and waggle plays.
None of the offense functions as designed if line coach Jimbo Armstrong's charges don't control the line of scrimmage.
To nail down a victory tonight, and earn the resulting .500 record, the Horns will have to rely on strong line play, a solid defense and a potent ground and aerial attack.
That's a lot to ask from a prep team playing just its fourth game of the season. But, coaches say they are confident the Horns are ready to once again turn up the gridiron heat.
Kickoff this evening is 7 p.m.