Eagles A Key To Payson's State Berth

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The postseason fate of the Longhorn football team could rest on the outcome of tonight's game against the Flagstaff Eagles.

Kickoff is 7 p.m. in PHS stadium.

With 5-2 credentials, the Horns need victories in their final three games of the regular season to pile up the power points it will take to earn a spot in the season-ending 16-team state tournament.

Power points are awarded to 4A schools on wins and strength of schedule.

Of Payson's five victories, only an Oct. 3 win over Pinnacle -- who was undefeated at the time -- piled up many power points.

The Horns' other victories were over relatively weak opponents.

If the Horns can finish 8-2 with victories against Flagstaff, Page (Oct. 31 in Page) and Sinagua (Nov. 7 in Flagstaff), the team might earn the points it takes to become one of the sweet 16.

PHS coaches and players have spent the week preparing for an Eagles team that in its last two games has relied on its defense and special teams. In a 23-0 win over Sinagua, the defense scored 14 points off turnovers. In whipping Page 20-6, Flagstaff scored one TD on a blocked punt attempt.

The Eagles base defense is similar to Payson's 4-3 scheme, but the team will move its middle linebacker over the center to form a 5-2 front.

The two different looks will require coach Jack Morris' offensive line to adjust its blocking to the defense.

When Payson goes on the defensive, the team will contend with the biggest quarterback it has seen this year. Starting quarterback Spencer Dohm stands 6 feet, 3 inches and tips the scales at 225 pounds.

The Eagles have a second signal caller, Japhet Leviticus, who sometimes replaces Dohm when running plays are called.

"He is fast," coach Jerry Rhoades said.

The offensive scheme of the Eagles centers around I and off-set I formations in which the team runs isolation, counter, power, toss and dive plays.

The Horn coaching staff has stressed to team members that they play their individual best during all four quarters.

The focus on executing for an entire game is in response to a 35-28 loss to Mingus last week. Payson fell behind the Marauders 35-7 in the first three quarters before rallying in the final 10 minutes of play.

Much of the burden of taking the game to the Eagles will fall on Payson's one-two punch of fullback Tyler Williams and tailback James Gibson.

Williams is the Horns' best offensive threat with a team-high 92 carries for 437 yards and two touchdowns.

Gibson has piled up 314 yards on 84 carries and has scored five TDs.

When Payson goes to the airways, junior quarterback Donnie Wilbanks has completed 47 of 101 passes for 771 yards and seven TDs. His favorite target, tight end Mike Barr, has corralled 13 passes for 261 yards.

After a slow start this season due to injures, Barr is rounding into the form that earned him postseason honors last year. Against Mingus, he caught three passes for 81 yards and three TD.

The good news for the Longhorn defense tonight is Larry Wilbanks will be back in action after missing last week's game with an arm injury.

Without Wilbanks, the Horn secondary stepped up to hold Mingus to 28 yards passing. With his return, the secondary should be even better.

That Horn defense also has a nucleus of other solid defenders -- including middle linebacker Cash Armstrong -- that will attempt to hold the Eagle passing and running game at bay.

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