A convincing season-opening win over Glendale Cortez followed by a bye week should have the Longhorn football team (1-0) chomping at the bit when it arrives in Apache Junction tonight (Friday).
Kickoff against the Prospectors (0-1) is 7 p.m. at Apache Junction high school.
Although rains the past few days caused some practice schedule changes, the Longhorns did manage to spend ample time gearing up for an Apache Junction team that first-year PHS coach Jerry Rhoades predicts "is going to be tough."
The coach's evaluation of the Prospectors is based mostly on scouting reports and the staff's review of Apache Junction game films.
"They have some big, hard running backs," Rhoades said.
The challenge the Horn defense faces is to find a way to align properly against Apache Junction's multiple formation offense that features both split backs and an off-set I back fields. The Prospectors' offense also frequently has two wide receivers and sometimes a three-receiver side which is known as "trips" in football jargon.
In defending the Prospectors, Rhoades will align his team it its base 43 defense that features stunts, blitzes and several combinations of coverages for the corners and safeties.
Offensively, fullback Tyler Williams could be returning to the lineup after being sidelined since injuring an ankle in a preseason scrimmage against Snowflake.
At midweek, Williams said he was eagerly anticipating returning to the lineup. During Monday's practice, he ran sprints for the first time since the injury. Tuesday, he practiced in half-pads.
Although Williams could see action offensively, Rhoades said he will not play any defense.
Last year, Williams was an all-region two-way performer.
Senior tight end Mike Barr, who was injured last month in a personal watercraft accident at Roosevelt Lake, could be nearing the end of his rehabilitation. The past week, he began running and conditioning exercises. As soon as doctors OK his return, Barr will don pads and prepare for play.
The fans who journey to Apache Junction for tonight's games might notice several subtle changes in the Longhorn offense. Among those changes are at quarterback where Donnie Wilbanks could be calling audibles based on what he sees from the Apache Junction defense.
In the team's win over Cortez, Wilbanks was not allowed to change plays at the line of scrimmage.
During the week, the Horns also installed two new Wing-T plays the team hasn't used since the early 1990s when the likes of Bo Althoff and Kyle Hilton were starring for Payson.
Next up for the Longhorns is a 7 p.m. game Sept. 19 against Desert Ridge.
The Longhorns begin all-important Grand Canyon region play Oct. 10 against Flagstaff Coconino.
Earning a berth in the 4A state tournament will be different than in the 3A conference where Payson was a member for two decades. Last year, a fourth-place region finish earned the Longhorns a state bid.
In 4A, where teams are tapped to state on power points, Rhoades is predicting the team will have to win at least seven games to advance to the post season.