After winning five consecutive games to open Payson High School's inaugural year in the 4A conference, the Longhorn football team has dropped two narrow decisions to Grand Canyon regional rivals.
The two-game skid began Oct. 10 with a 12-7 loss to Flagstaff Coconino and continued Friday night in Mingus where the Horns dropped a 35-28 decision to the Marauders.
The Horns will try to restart the victory wagon against Flagstaff Oct. 24 in Longhorn stadium. Kickoff is 7 p.m.
Against Mingus, the Horns led only once in the game. That occurred early in the second quarter after the Marauders had taken a 6-0 lead. Mike Barr's fumble recovery for a touchdown and Nick Degroot's conversion kick propelled Payson to a 7-6 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, Mingus' Ray Rivera had an 87-yard return that lifted Mingus to a lead it never relinquished. By halftime, Mingus led 21-7. In the third stanza, the Marauders tacked on another six points to assume a seemingly safe 28-7 lead. The tide turned even worse for Horn fans when Mingus built a 35-7 cushion with about 10 minutes remaining in the game.
Refusing to fold up the tent and return to the Rim country, the Longhorns used two successful onside kicks and a long scoring strike to score 21 fourth-quarter points.
Horn fate might have been different had the team been able to find an answer for Rivera. In addition to scoring on the kickoff return, he rushed 28 times for 193 yards and two touchdowns.
Although a loss is a loss on anyone's tally sheet, the team's strong showing against Mingus is a morale booster for the Longhorn program.
The Marauders are odds-on favorites to win the Grand Canyon regional title and through the past 14 years have built a storied program that has won 11 regional and one 4A state championship.
Looking ahead, the Horns could finish with an 8-2 record should the team defeat Flagstaff, Page (Oct. 31) and Sinagua (Nov. 7).
The big question that remains, however, is will that mark produce enough power points to earn a berth to state?
Prior to the loss to Mingus, Payson ranked 14 in the 4A conference in power points. The top 16 teams in power points at season's end advance to the state tournament. With the loss to Mingus, the Horns will fall in the power point ranks. The final three games of the regular season could be a wild ride.
In other 4A Grand Canyon games Friday, Coconino beat Page 21-0 and Flagstaff whipped Sinagua 23-0.