Horns, Rest Of State Look To Sting Yellow Jackets


The most intriguing query in Class 3A football this fall might center around whether there's a prep team that has the horses to corral defending state champion Blue Ridge.

The Yellow Jackets are coming off a 14-0 season in which they outscored their opponents 179-26.


In a passing drill at Tuesday afternoon's practice at Payson High School, Longhorn wide receiver Chris Donaldson (left) had trouble holding on to this pass. Defending on the play was Billy Bob Hoyt.

But that kind of season is nothing new for the Jackets. They've been churning out state championship teams since the 1970s, when former Blue Ridge coach Joe Girardi was building a foundation that led to a small-town football dynasty.

In preseason polls, the Jackets are again ranked No. 1 and considered the overwhelming favorites to win yet another Arizona title.

Waiting in the wings hoping to spring a surprise upset over Blue Ridge are several teams that have the talent of the Yellow Jackets, but not the tradition.

Among them are Coolidge, Snowflake, Wickenburg and Payson.

State tournament long shots include Wilcox, Parker, River Valley, Winslow and Show Low.

The Longhorns will have the opportunity to test their toughness against the Yellow Jackets Oct. 25 in Payson. The homecoming match kicks off at 7 p.m.

Should the two rivals meet in the state tournament, as they did last year, the regular season homecoming clash could prove to be anticlimactic.

For the Horns to have any chance of upsetting the Jackets whether it be homecoming or in a state showdown the coaching staff of Steve Saban, Mike Loutzenheiser, Jimbo Armstrong and Nelson Beck will have to come up with a solid game plan on both sides of the ball.

As the defensive coordinator replacing Jack Morris who stepped down last year, Loutzenheiser is looking to add some new defensive wrinkles. Fans can expect a 5-3 defense that features two standup defensive ends and three linebackers.

Of course, any defense whether it has an odd or even front is only as good as its players.

Ends Mike Barr and Jake Swartwood could be two of the best defenders in the region. If the pair play up to their potential, opponents can forget about power sweeps generating any type of yardage.

On the defensive line, Loutzenheiser is testing several candidates including Tyler Williams, Bryce River, James Huddlestun, Nate Acord, Ryan Thiel, John Snively and Jonathan Kemper.

In a 5-3 scheme, if that's what the coach goes with, Loutzenheiser will ask his linebackers to stuff the running plays. At first sight of an aerial attempt, they'll drop into hook-and-curl passing zones or cover backs out of the backfield.

Linebacker candidates include Ashton Shewey, Layton Howell, George Coleman, Klayton Haught, Ryan Thiel and Preston Boyle.

In that crew, Loutzenheiser should be able to find a trio capable of manhandling opponents.

Some might think Loutzenheiser's plan to use a 5-3 will leave the team wide open to the pass.

But with a stable full of corners and safeties, the coach says he is confident the team can defend down the field.

Defensive back candidates include Waylon Pettet, Chad McRae, Billy Bob Hoyt, Mark McRae, Derek Daniels, John Cronin, Nate Perna, Adam Jewel, David Curtis and Chris Donaldson.

On "O"

In his second year at the helm of the PHS program, Saban will continue to operate the Wing-T offense he used last year when the team compiled a 7-5 record and finished third in the East.

The difference this season is that Ky Bradley is no longer around to pull the trigger. He graduated in the spring, and will probably be replaced by senior Nate Perna a backup last year.

In he backfield, Perna will have a pair of talented runners in Waylon Pettet and Tyler Williams. According to coaches, Pettet will probably hold down the halfback slot and Williams will get the nod at fullback. Other running back candidates include Hoyt, Thiel and Rick Corso.

For the offense to click, Perna will need a host of receivers.

At 6 foot, 5 inches and 215 pounds, Barr a tight end represents a nice-sized target.

The wide or "X" and "Z" receiving candidates include Donaldson, Cronin, Jewell, Curtis, Daniels, Swartwood. and Mark McRae.

But before Perna, the running backs and receivers can begin to consider chalking up yardage, they'll need support from the troops in the trenches.

Among the most talented linemen are George Coleman and Bryce River. Both tip the scales at 200-plus pounds, are experienced and have proven their athleticism as award-winning members of the PHS wrestling team.

The two will be counted on to anchor a line that could also include Shewey, Szabo, Munson, Acord, Snively, Boyle and Huddlestun.

Saban and his coaching staff will have the opportunity to put their Horns to a test at 2 p.m. tomorrow (Saturday) against Monument Valley. The preseason scrimmage will be played at Round Valley High School in Eagar.

The season kicks off at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept 6, in Longhorn stadium against the St. Johns Redskins.

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