Coach Mike Morgan's St. Johns Redskins dominated gridiron action most of the evening, but it was the home-standing Longhorns that earned the victory.
Friday evening in both teams' season opener, the Horns rode the heroics of senior running back Waylon Pettet to a 20-16 victory.
The elusive scat back finished with 155 yards rushing on 18 attempts. He also scored on a 90-yard kickoff return and was the team leader in tackles with eight.
Pettet put on a two-way show that helped overcome a strong Redskin effort in which the visitors outgained Payson 351 yards to 209 in total offense.
Payson had the ball for just 14:50 of the game. St. Johns, a 2A power, controlled the pigskin for 33:10.
With the win, the Longhorns are off to a 1-0 start and can now focus on the Wickenburg Wranglers who are waiting in the wings. The two teams clash at 7 p.m. Friday in PHS stadium.
In beating St. Johns, the Longhorns put on a come-from-behind effort that saw the team rally from a 16-7 halftime deficit.
With 11:43 remaining in the third quarter, Pettet broke loose on a 59-yard scoring scamper that seemed to breathe life into a Longhorn team that was struggling. Chad McRae's extra point kick closed the Redskin cushion to 16-14.
The Horns took the lead with 11:23 remaining in the fourth quarter when sophomore fullback Tyler Williams bulled his way 12 yards to pay dirt.
The two-point conversion attempt was not good, but the Horns had posted a four-point lead they would never relinquish.
Defensively, George Coleman and Chad McRae turned in stellar evenings. Coleman finished with seven tackles and McRae had six and a pass interception.
His pickoff, which came as time was expiring in the fourth quarter, ended a Redskin scoring threat and preserved the Longhorn win.
All evening, the Payson secondary, coached by Mike Loutzenheiser was tested by the one-two punch of quarterback Michael Lindsay and receiver Mike Neilson. Lindsay completed 11 of 20 pass attempts for 149 yards. Neilson was on the receiving end of five passes for 113 yards.