Yellow Jackets Eliminate Horns In State Opener

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You can’t score if you don’t have the ball.

That old adage proved true Friday evening in Lakeside where the defending state champion Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets defeated the Payson Longhorns 21-0.

During the state tournament opening round skirmish, the Jackets executed 71 offensive snaps to just 29 for Payson. Also, Blue Ridge unleashed a bruising ground game that allowed the East Region champions to maintain possession of the ball for more than 35 minutes of the 48-minute game.

Throughout the evening, coach Steve Saban’s Wing-T had few opportunities to showcase an offense that had run and passed for more than 3,000 yards this season.

The Longhorns’ star running back Waylon Pettet, who finished the campaign with 1,270 yards rushing, had just 48 yards on nine carries.

Payson’s other weapon, sophomore fullback Tyler Williams, was held to 20 yards on seven carries.

The pair’s offensive production represented their lowest of the season.

When Payson went to the airways, the results weren’t much better. Quarterback Nate Perna completed just four of nine passes for 26 yards.

The defensive key to slowing the Longhorn air attack was Blue Ridge’s ability to thwart the waggle plays in which Perna bootlegs around end looking for a running back or tight end Mike Barr.

The state showdown was the second time in less than three weeks the two teams had met.

Blue Ridge won a 35-28 regular season thriller Oct. 25.

Jackets rush to win

In the scoreless first quarter of Friday’s state game, neither offense could get on track. However, with 8:33 remaining in the second stanza, Blue Ridge’s Dan Rawlings’ one-yard TD run capped a 13-play, 59-yard drive. Jeremy Bench’s extra-point kick sailed wide left.

Just when it looked like Blue Ridge would take a 6-0 cushion into halftime, the Yellow Jackets scored on a pass from Mitch Watkins to Nick Merklin. Blue Ridge’s successful two-point conversion with 12 seconds remaining lifted the Jackets to a 14-0 lead.

The Yellow Jackets iced the victory cake with 3:56 remaining in the game when Ryan Randell scored on a nine-yard run. Randell’s run capped a 15-play, 94-yard drive.

The loss eliminated the Longhorns (6-4) from the state tournament and ended the team’s preseason dreams of advancing to the 3A finale.

Around the conference

In other 3A state tournament games involving East teams, regional runner-up Snowflake ambushed Window Rock 71-0 in Lobo stadium. Show Low throttled Sedona Red Rock 35-14; Seton Catholic slipped past Wickenburg 32-14; and Coolidge blasted Holbrook 63-0. Former PHS coach Jim Beall’s Higley team fell 40-7 to Globe. Wilcox whipped Hopi 44-6 and Winslow survived a thriller, 20-14, over Camp Verde.

The second round of the state tournament kicks off Nov. 14 at Mesa College. At 5 p.m., Snowflake takes on East rival Show Low. Following that game, at about 8 p.m., Seton plays Coolidge.

Nov. 15 also at Mesa College, Globe and Wilcox clash at 5 p.m. At about 8 p.m., Blue Ridge and Winslow meet.

What happened?

Payson’s loss to Blue Ridge wrapped up a promising campaign in which the Horns once owned a 4-0 record that included victories over Wickenburg and St. Johns.

The win streak was broken Oct. 4 in a last-second loss to Snowflake.

Following that defeat, the Horns rebounded to whip the East’s two worst teams Round Valley and Alchesay.

Sporting a 6-1 record and a state third-place ranking, the Longhorns seemed to have righted a ship that was listing after the loss to the Lobos.

But in the final two weeks of the season, Payson lost to Blue Ridge and then Show Low, 42-6.

As the East’s fourth-place finisher, the Horns wrapped up the regular season ranked No. 10 in the 3A conference with 52.50 power points.

Which meant, in the new tournament pairing system, Payson drew the No. 7 ranked Yellow Jackets in the tournament’s first round.

With the loss to Blue Ridge, all that’s left for Payson players is to await the announcement of the All-East team. The senior members of the PHS squad are eligible to participate in the annual Arizona Coaches Association North vs. South All-Star game when it is played next summer in Casa Grande. ACA members select those teams at the conclusion of the Class 5A state tournament.

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