The Longhorns unblemished slate (3-0) will be on the line when the team travels to Prescott this evening to take on a Badger team that PHS football coach Jerry Rhoades anticipates will be a solid test for his young charges.
"They are 0-3, but are the best team we have played," he said.
Offensively, Prescott relies on a Wing-T strategy that is somewhat different from Payson's offense in that it relies heavily on big plays and long passes.
After watching several scouting films, Rhoades and his staff said the Prescott quarterback is the key to Badger success.
"He's a great quarterback. He will pull (the ball) down and run at the drop of a hat," Rhoades said. "He is by far their best player."
To counter the talented signal caller and limit his ability to run bootlegs, waggles and throw deep, Rhoades has spent the practice week tinkering with his defensive backfield.
Since passing league over the summer, the first-year Horn coach has favored a cover-two defense. In the first three games this season, he stuck with the strategy.
Against Prescott, however, fans might see the defensive backs align in an inverted cover-two in which the backs play defense from the outside in, instead of the inside out.
Payson's deep defenders will be playing off the line of scrimmage about 8 to 9 yards as corners. The new philosophy will allow the defenders to play more of a match-up zone-type defense. To an opposing quarterback, it might look like man-to-man coverage.
So, what's the reason for the change? After all, Payson's defense limited Desert Ridge to just 17 yards through the air in the Longhorns 41-0 win last week.
"It should help with the deep outside routes," Rhoades said. "It will help with (cornerback) Ryan Thiel being able to back off."
Rhoades said the players have adjusted well to the scheme.
"The kids seem to think it's better and they are able to run it a little easier," he said. "I don't know if it is going to make us better against the pass, but if the kids aren't so confused, it will be an improvement."
If Prescott adjusts to the defense and runs slant out routes from a tight slot formation, the players will have to adjust.
"We may have to alter our reads a bit," Rhoades said.
The Payson defense advances to Badger homecoming this season fresh off a standout performance against Desert Ridge in which the Horns held them to 64 yards of total offense.
The defense also blocked two punts, one of which resulted in a safety and the other a TD.
The defensive lineup could change before kickoff this evening, but the front four will probably be manned by a combination to include Adam Munson, Donnie Engler, Mike Barr, Greg Barnes and Chris Skinner.
James Gibson will see playing time at the strong side linebacker and Nathan Lee the weak side. Cash Armstrong could get the call at middle linebacker. The backfield could include Donnie Wilbanks (free safety), Larry Wilbanks (corner), J.R. Szabo (strong safety) and Thiel.