A pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns erased a 3-0 deficit and earned the Longhorns a 15-3 Class 4A Grand Canyon regional victory over the Flagstaff Eagles.
With the win Friday night at Payson High School, the Horns improved their record to 6-2 and took another step toward accumulating the power points needed to earn a berth into the season-ending state tournament.
Prior to the win over Flagstaff, Payson was ranked 21st in the 4A conference with 46.43 power points. Only the top 16-ranked teams at the end of the regular season advance to the state tournament.
When new rankings are released today, the Horns should move up, but whether the team will reach the sweet 16 is uncertain.
Early in the season, Payson was rated as high as 13th. Back-to-back losses to Coconino and Mingus withered the team's power points ranking.
In the triumph over the Eagles, the Longhorns were forced to play catch-up most of the game. Flagstaff took a 3-0 lead with 1:20 remaining in the first quarter on a field goal that capped a 14-play 76-yard drive.
Payson didn't score until 8:21 of the fourth quarter when junior tailback James Gibson bulled his way one yard to pay dirt. Gibson's run culminated a gutsy 14-play 62-yard drive. Nick Degroot toed the extra point to give the Longhorns a precarious 7-3 lead.
Just over three minutes later, the Longhorns tacked on an insurance TD
on fullback Tyler Williams' one-yard run. On the extra point attempt, the long snap from center was off target and Degroot was forced to scramble for the loose ball. Once he had the pigskin corralled, Degroot sets his sights on the end zone. Refusing to be denied by several Flagstaff defenders, his diving attempt to the goal line was successful and Payson had the two-point, broken-play conversion.
Degroot's conversion scramble brought a smile to the face of offensive line coach Jack Morris.
"It was great to see a guard score," he said. "Linemen don't get too many opportunities like that."
Although the win wasn't assured until late in the game and was by a narrow 12-point margin, the Longhorns dominated play most of the contest. In time of possession, Payson owned the ball for 39:44 and only punted once. The Horns' solid defense held the Eagles to 132 yards of total offense.
Defensively, the Horns' 43 scheme that often features the secondary in cover-two held Flagstaff's ground game to just 58 yards rushing. The Payson D was equally as effective when Flagstaff went to the passing attack. A combination of two Eagle QBs completed just seven of 15 pass attempts and had two errant aerials pilfered.
The Horns' quest for even more power points continues Oct. 31 in Page. Kickoff is 7 p.m.
A combination freshman and junior varsity game will be played at 1 p.m. Nov. 1 at Longhorn field.