In a rematch of two longtime East region rivals, the Longhorns travel to Lakeside this evening (Friday) to challenge the Yellow Jackets in a first round state football tournament game. Kickoff is 7 p.m. in Blue Ridge High School stadium.
The defending state champion Jackets enter the game as slight favorites, having beaten the Longhorns 35-28 on Oct. 25. That heartbreaking loss was tough to absorb in that it put a severe crimp on Payson High’s homecoming celebration.
The week after, Blue Ridge and Payson met in the hard fought classic. The two teams took entirely different paths to the state tournament.
In a regular season finale on Nov. 1, Blue Ridge whipped Snowflake 32-28 to win the East region championship.
That same evening in Payson, the Longhorns were soundly thumped 42-6 by Show Low. The Horns loss relegated the team to a regular season fourth place finish behind BR, runner-up Snowflake and bronze medalist Show Low.
If the Horns are going to turn the victory tables on Blue Ridge, the team will have to avoid the late game pitfalls it suffered in the regular season matchup.
In that game, Payson snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
Late in the fourth quarter with the Longhorns clinging to a 28-27 lead, the Jackets went on a desperation 10-play, 82-yard drive that culminated with Rich Kjellson romping 33 yards to pay dirt. Blue Ridge’s two-point conversion attempt with 18 seconds remaining nailed down the BR victory.
During the Yellow Jackets last gasp drive, the Horns committed several mistakes, including a personal foul, that kept BR’s come from behind hopes alive.
The Longhorn defensive scheme this evening will probably focus on trying to stop the running antics of Kjellson. In the first meeting, he shredded the Horn defense for 145 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
Quarterback Alex Moro, the coach’s son, will also be a likely target. Before leaving the game with an injury, Moro completed six of eight passes for 114 yards.
Unofficial word out of Lakeside is the backup signal caller, Curtis Farhlender, is dinged up and might not be available for duty should Moro go down.
If the Longhorns can somehow muster up a way to pull off an upset on the Jackets’ home turf, the team would advance to the state quarterfinals against the winner of a first round matchup between Winslow and Camp Verde. That game would be played Nov. 15 at Mesa College.