A victory this evening over Flagstaff Coconino might yield the power points the Longhorns need for a berth in the season-ending state tournament.
Knocking off a foursome of floundering teams (Cortez, Apache Junction, Desert Ridge and Prescott) that had losing records didn't produce many points for the Horns. In the 4A system, wins over quality opponents produce more points. Payson's 10-7 win Friday over Pinnacle, which was 4-0 at the time, added 70 power points to the Horns playoff cause.
Because Coconino is considered a quality team, a Payson triumph would be another huge step towards reaching the playoffs.
Against Coconino, quarterback Donnie Wilbanks and his teammates on offense will face a team that relies mostly on a 4-4 defense. That means eight players can stack the box to shut down Payson's inside traps, dives and powers.
The fate of the Horn "O" might rest on the shoulders of fullback Tyler Williams and tailback James Gibson. Williams appears to be rounding into form after recovering from a ankle injury suffered Aug. 22 in a scrimmage against Snowflake.
Gibson has taken over the tailback slot full time after playing several positions in spring ball, summer league and early season.
The pair give the Longhorns a one-two punch that can be tough to stop.
If the Longhorns opt for the airways, Wilbanks has a huge target in 6-foot, 7-inch tight end Mike Barr. Like Williams, Barr was sidelined in early season, but appears to have regained the luster that earned him all-region honors last season.
The offensive line of Kevin Allen, Greg Barnes, Kyle Sachak, Nick Degroot and Adam Munson also has been a force to reckon with all season. In every game, the line has managed to more than hold its own despite giving up distinct size advantages.
Defensively, the Horns have been led in the past two contests by Mike linebacker Cash Armstrong. Although he is only a sophomore, Armstrong has ably manned a position that might be one of the most demanding to play.
The Longhorn defense turned in probably its best effort of the year in last week's win over Pinnacle.
Another stellar showing for the "D" might be just what the Longhorns need to nail down a victory over Coconino.