The Longhorns' fate in tonight's annual homecoming clash could hinge on the return of two injured starters.
Safety/tight end J.R. Szabo and tailback Luke Apfel were banged up last week in the Horns 20-19 win over Prescott.
Szabo, who was one of the team's hardest-working players in the off season, suffered a separated shoulder. Apfel, the team's leading rusher with 344 yards, went down with a pulled hamstring.
If the two would return to the lineup tonight, it would do wonders to boost the Longhorns' (4-0) chances to remain undefeated against 4A 10th-ranked Pinnacle (4-0).
Kick off is 7 p.m.
If Apfel cannot make the start, the coaching staff has the option of moving junior fullback James Gibson to tailback.
This season, playing mostly fullback where he is called upon to run trap plays between the guards, Gibson has rushed for 181 yards. His hard-nosed efforts have drawn praise from coaches, teammates and fans.
Even if Apfel returns, PHS coaches have indicated he might be moved to the Z or wingback position and Gibson remain at tailback.
Starting fullback honors will probably go to Tyler Williams who returned to action full time last week after being sidelined most of the season by an ankle injury.
Against Prescott, he returned to the form that last year earned him all-region honors. In 21 carries, he picked up 106 yards. He also had three receptions for 20 yards. For his efforts, he was named The Roundup's Player of the Week.
Along with Williams, senior tight end Mike Barr is expected to shoulder much of the workload this evening. Barr returned to action against Prescott after being sidelined after a rib injury. In his first full game this season, he caught five passes for 124 yards.
If Szabo cannot play this evening, Barr will probably handle most of the tight end responsibilities.
Defensively, Szabo will be much tougher to replace. As the Horns' starting strong safety, he's been solid at both stopping the run and defending the pass. Szabo brings a toughness to the Longhorn lineup that would be hard to replace.
Should he not be ready this evening, coach Jerry Rhoades -- also the defensive coordinator -- will have to find a defender to man the secondary along side Donnie Wilbanks (free safety), Larry Wilbanks (corner) and Ryan Thiel (corner).
Szabo's replacement could be sophomore Josh Blalock who has spent most of the season as quarterback on the junior varsity team.
The good news for the Longhorns is the team could have quick tackle Kevin Allen back in action. Allen did not play against Prescott after suffering a knee injury in the Horns Sept. 19 win over Desert Ridge.
In Pinnacle, the Horns will be facing a team that --long with Payson -- are the surprises of the 4A conference.
With four victories, once-lowly Pinnacle has already won more games than it did the past two seasons.
Because Payson moved from 3A to the 4A conference only this fall, the Longhorns were not expected to do well against the big schools.
The team's success has caught almost everyone off guard who believes in the big school mystique.
Against Pinnacle, fans could see a mirror image of the Longhorn team.
Like Payson, Pinnacle operates out of a Wing-T offense and a 4-3 defense."They execute well on both sides of the ball and are big and quick," Rhoades said.
Scouting reports indicate Pinnacle thrives on the ground game, and in some games the run has accounted for as much as 80 percent of the offense.
Pinnacle's favorite plays might be the counters in which they pull their huge offensive linemen for kickout blocks.