Horns Miss Out On State Race

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An 8-2 record wasn't enough to earn the Payson Longhorns a berth into the Class 4A state tournament.

The Horns finished 17th in the conference ranking system that selects only the top 16 teams for postseason play. The state seeds were announced Saturday at a coaches meeting in Phoenix.

Payson's first-year coach Jerry Rhoades was scheduled to attend the meeting but a multiple car accident on Interstate 17 closed the Highway for several hours.

Rhoades, who was being accompanied by the Mingus coaching staff, found himself caught in the gridlock of the accident and had to phone Phoenix to learn of the team's fate.

At first, there was confusion about whether Payson had made the playoffs. One Valley newspaper reported Saturday morning the Longhorns were tied with Arcadia for the final two playoff spots and would flip a coin to determine the two team's first round opponents. Rumors also circulated at youth football games being played on PHS field that the Longhorns were in the tournament.

Those reports later proved erroneous.

Even before Friday's season-ending 26-22 win over Flagstaff Sinagua, speculation on the PHS coaching staff and among the players was that the team's bid to play in the postseason might come up short.

The 16th and final berth went to Arcadia (8-2).

The Friday evening prior to the state selections, Arcadia dropped a 72-14 decision to No. 1 ranked Scottsdale Chaparral. The loss, however, didn't hurt Arcadia's state chances significantly because Chaparral finished the season 10-0. Due to Chaparral's unblemished record, the Titans received 50 bonus points in the rankings. Payson's win over Sinagua also was worth 50 points.

Power points are awarded on victories and strength of schedule. With eight triumphs, the Horns had plenty of wins to earn a berth. The team's schedule, however, didn't feature enough top-16 teams to earn the Horns the bonus points that are awarded for playing ranked foes.

As the 16th seed, Arcadia opens state play Nov. 14 against No. 1 Chaparral.

The 15th seed went to Tucson Santa Rita, which has drawn No. 2 Peoria Centennial. Santa Rita dropped its regular season finale 44-6 to Tucson Sunnyside.

Set to represent the Grand Canyon region in the tournament are No. 13 Mingus (vs. No. 2 Tucson Sabino) and No. 10 Flagstaff Coconino (vs. No. 7 Glendale Cactus).

If the Horns could pinpoint the regular season loss that stalled the team's bid for a state playoff berth, it would be a 12-7 decision to Coconino Oct. 10.

At the time, the Horns were on a five-game winning streak and ranked 14th in the power point system.

Following the defeat, coaches attributed the loss to missed scoring opportunities. The Longhorns had the ball inside Coconino's 20-yard line on five occasions and failed to score. On two crucial fourth-and-short-situations, Payson could not pick up first downs.

The exclusion of a Longhorn team that finished the regular season at 8-2 has some coaches around the state mulling the power point system and wondering if it is the best selection process. One of the solutions being discussed is to shorten the regular season by one game and expand the state tournament from 16 to 32 teams.

A decision to change the playoff format would rest with the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

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