Horns Sputter, Stumble In Season Opener

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A win is a win.

Longhorn football coach Jerry Rhoades is reminding himself of that after the 26-6 season-opening win over the Cortez Colts.

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Senior fullback Tyler Williams has been a varsity standout for the past three season. In addition to being a solid ball carrier, he is a good blocker and plays on the defensive line.

Prior to the Aug. 27 game, Rhoades said the Colts were much improved over the team the Horns whipped last year 39-12. As predicted, Cortez was much better, but the Horns were their own worst enemy in the error-marred game.

The team fumbled three times and lost two of the miscues. It was also penalized eight times for 55 yards.

"Touchdowns coming back because of penalties, missed assignments --t was not pretty," offensive coordinator Mike Loutzenheiser said.

Payson got away with the mistakes against Cortez. But, those errors could spell the team's demise when it faces some of the Grand Canyon region's top squads later in the season.

One of the reasons for the shabby performance was the team's lack of a preseason scrimmage.

"That really hurt us,"Loutzenheiser said. "We made so many mistakes, it was unbelievable."

Payson opened the game in impressive fashion capping a seven-play 75-yard drive with a two-yard scoring run by senior fullback Tyler Williams. With 9:18 remaining, Nick DeGroot kicked the extra point to give the Longhorns a 7-0 lead.

About seven minutes later, Cortez pulled to within 7-6 when quarterback Joe Martinez hooked up with Mark Mendoza on a seven-yard scoring aerial. The conversion kick failed.

With 7:16 remaining in the second quarter, the Horns took a 14-6 lead on a 14-yard pass to James Gibson from quarterback Donnie Wilbanks. The play capped a six-play 60-yard drive. DeGroot again toed the conversion to give Payson a 14-6 halftime lead. The Horns scored in the third quarter on a two-yard run by Williams that wrapped up an eight-play, 60-yard march.

DeGroot's kick failed.

With just 20 second remaining in the game, junior tailback Luke Apfel lifted Payson's winning margin to 20 points on a 32-yard TD scamper.

A victory margin of that many points is usually cause for celebration. But in the win, the Horns didn't show the defensive and offensive cohesiveness the coaching staff was hoping for from the senior-dominated group that been together since they were freshmen.

Individually, Wilbanks finished six-of-14 through the airways for 134 yards and one touchdown.

Although his stats are respectable, Wilbanks usually couldn't find the time to hook up with his receivers.

"He had too much pressure on him to be real effective," Loutzenheiser said. "The offensive line was terrible in the first half."

Williams shouldered the bulk of the ground game rushing for 96 yards on 25 carries. Apfel rushed 15 times for 73 yards.

Following the game, Loutzenheiser lauded Williams for his gutsy play.

"Tyler played tremendous when things were going well," he said. "He single handedly kept us in the game in the first half."

Although the Horns clicked and sputtered all evening, they'll have the opportunity to fine-tune their game at 7 p.m. Sept. 3 in Longhorn stadium against Notre Dame.

In the school's varsity debut Aug. 27 at Scottsdale Community College, the Saints absorbed a 57-13 thumping from state No. 10 ranked Sunnyslope.

Although Notre Dame is fielding a first-ever varsity team, the school is playing an independent league season with no chance of earning a state playoff spot.

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