Just when small-town high school football fans, players and coaches were thinking the Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets were not the gridiron juggernaut they once were, Blue Ridge rose up Friday night in PHS stadium to defeat the state fourth-ranked Longhorns 35-28.
The loss put the damper on Payson's homecoming celebration and has probably relegated the Longhorns to a third-place finish in the East region.
But to earn the region bronze medal, the Horns have to defeat Show Low in the regular season finale Nov. 1 in Payson. Kickoff is 7 p.m.
Entering Friday's win, Blue Ridge was reeling from a 14-0 loss to Winslow and a pair of forfeitures for using an ineligible player. The defending state champion Yellow Jackets, who are usually the top-ranked team in the state, had fallen from the rankings.
With all that, the Jackets seemed to be ripe for the picking.
But, late in the fourth quarter with Payson clinging to a 28-27 lead, the Yellow Jackets went on a desperation 10-play, 82-yard drive that culminated with Rich Kjellson romping 33 yards for a TD. Blue Ridge's two-point conversion attempt with 18 seconds remaining in the game nailed down the upset win.
Payson had enough time on the clock for three more plays but a last gasp passing attempt by quarterback Nate Perna was intercepted by Blue Ridge's Curtis Farhlender.
If the Horns go searching for reasons for the loss, they might point to the inability to stop Kjellson who finished with 21 carries for 145 yards and two touchdowns.
Payson's standout running back Waylon Pettet rushed 11 times for 99 yards. Of that total, 61 yards came on a fourth-quarter touchdown run.
Blue Ridge quarterback Alex Moro completed six of eight passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns.
Perna was seven of 14 through the airways for 50 yards.
Linebacker Layton Howell led the Longhorn defensive stand with 10 tackles.