The Longhorns have yet to play a top-10 ranked 4A school, but the team's 3-0 record is evidence that Payson has the manpower to compete successfully in the big school conference.
Friday night, the Longhorns thumped Desert Ridge, 41-0.
Racking up 329 yards in total offense, the Longhorns ran over around and through a Desert Ridge defense that the PHS coaching staff found difficult to scout.
After viewing game films of Desert Ridge in early season action against Cortez and Pinnacle, coach Jerry Rhoades said he was uncertain what type of defensive front his team could expect.
"I can't tell if they are a 50 or a 40 team," he said. "If I had to make a guess, I would say they ran a 44 or 43."
The inability to pinpoint the defense did little to slow Payson's Wing-T-offense. After building a 28-0 lead at halftime and expanding it to 41 points in the third quarter, Rhoades substituted junior varsity players in for mop-up duty.
Sophomore tailback Luke Apfel paced the Horn "O," racking up 97 yards on 12 carries. Apfel scored twice in the Longhorns' second-quarter blitzkrieg that produced 20 points. His first TD came with 11:08 remaining on a 34-yard run. He scored again on a 5-yard TD dart with 2:27 on the clock.
Ryan Theil, James Gibson and Tyler Williams also scored. Williams, an all-region performer last season, returned to the lineup after sitting out two games with an ankle injury suffered in a season-opening scrimmage against Snowflake. On six carries from his fullback position, Williams picked up 32 yards.
Following the game, assistant coach Jack Morris praised the offensive line for a stellar performance that blocked well for the running game and allowed quarterback Donnie Wilbanks to complete six of eight passes for 92 yards.
Members of the line include Kevin Allen (quick tackle), Greg Barnes (quick guard), Kyle Sachak (center), Nick DeGroot (strong guard) and Adam Munson (strong tackle).
While the PHS offense was running rampant, the Horns' 43 defense was holding Desert Ridge to 81 yards of total offense. Of that, 64 were gained on the ground and 17 through the airways.
The Horns improved pass defense was good news for fans who saw the secondary struggle in Payson's wins over Cortez and Apache Junction.
In last week's 21-14 victory over the Prospectors, the Horns secondary coughed up 211 yards and a touchdown.
The win over Desert Ridge sets up a showdown Sept. 26 in Prescott. Although the game is not a Grand Canyon region showdown, its outcome could be crucial to Payson's hopes to earn a berth in the season-ending state tournament.
In the 4A conference, power points are used to seed teams into state. Rhoades predicts that the Horns need seven victories to earn a state berth.
Also important in the power point system is victories over quality opponents. Since Prescott is highly regarded in 4A gridiron circles, a Payson win would be a feather in the Longhorns' cap.