East Vs. West Clash Tonight On Phs Field

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Bragging rights, power points and state rankings will be on the line when the Payson Longhorns and Wickenburg Wranglers butt heads at 7 p.m. tonight (Friday) on PHS field.

About the only thing that won't be at stake is a win or loss in the regional standings.

While the two teams are both members of the 3A conference, each plays in a different region. Wickenburg calls the West home; Payson is a member of the East.

That East versus West rivalry might pour a bit more fuel on the fire that exists between the two schools.

The rugged East has long been considered the premier region in football.

Year after year, the East produces the state champion and prior to the installation of a power point ranking system two years ago, the final four could include as many as three East teams.

Wickenburg would like nothing better than to put an end to the East's perceived arrogance by whipping East teams like Payson.

Early last season, the Wranglers took a big step toward proving they can play with the beasts of the East by downing the Longhorns 21-12. But the tables were somewhat turned on the Wranglers when they lost to Blue Ridge 28-0 in the state tournament semifinals.

All of that, however, is nothing more than history. Wickenburg and Payson enter tonight's game highly regarded and odds-on favorites to earn state tournament berths.

Wickenburg (1-0) is coming off a 47-8 season-opening shellacking of Chinle. In some state polls, the Wranglers are ranked as high as fourth behind top-rated Blue Ridge, second ranked Coolidge and Snowflake.

Payson which opened the campaign with a 20-16 win over 2A power St. Johns is fifth-ranked.

Because a pair of the 3A's best teams will clash, the event should provide enough fireworks for players, coaches and fans.

On the Longhorn front, head coach Steve Saban is predicting good things for his charges.

"I am confident our kids will respond to the challenge of playing another highly ranked team," he said.

Prepping for the Wranglers

During this week's practice sessions, the Horn coaching staff has tried to iron out some of the offensive and defensive kinks that were evident in Friday's win.

"We have to improve on some mistakes we made in order to have a chance against Wickenburg," Saban said.

Of real concern in the Payson camp was the lack of a passing game against the Redskins.

Quarterback Nate Perna, who improved as the game wore on, completed just one of nine passing attempts and had one intercepted.

For the wing-T offense to click, Payson's passing efficiency especially on the short routes to the fullback has to improve.

The Horns have some talented receivers on their roster. If the wideouts, wingbacks and tight ends run good routes and Perna finds them, the Horns will have an aerial game to go along with the ground attack led by Waylon Pettet and Tyler Williams.

Last Friday, Pettet rushed for 185 yards on 18 carries and Williams racked up 62 yards on 12 carries.

Defensively, coach Jimbo Armstrong's 53 (or 5-3) defense, along with a six-man front, held St. Johns to nine points. The Redskins other seven points came on a fumble return.

Pettet led the team in tackles with eight. George Coleman had seven tackles; Chad McRae tallied six; and Jake Swartwood was credited with five.

St. Johns was able to pile up 196 yards passing and 155 yards rushing.

A total of 351 yards is not a huge amount for a defense that spent 33-plus minutes of a 48 minute game on the field.

During the week, coach Mike Loutzenheiser said he would be tinkering with the defensive backs in his lineup, trying to put the players in the positions where they can provide run support and defend the pass.

If the Horns have an edge tonight, it could be in the fan support that helps create a home field advantage.

Against St. Johns, a large, vocal crowd turned out to cheer Payson's every play.

"The fan support we had was phenomenal," Saban said.

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