A new signal caller will be pulling the trigger when the Longhorns play host Friday to the Mingus Marauders. Kick off is 7 p.m. in Longhorn stadium.
Luke Apfel, a junior who has played tailback since he was a freshman, practiced the past week as quarterback in the Horns' option offense.
Coach Jerry Rhoades made the decision to shift Apfel to under center because regular starter Donnie Wilbanks is sidelined, possibly for the season, with a knee injury.
Wilbanks suffered the injury during the third quarter of the Longhorns 28-17 loss Oct. 8 to Flagstaff Coconino.
"I got hit and (the tackler) kind of rolled up on my leg," Wilbanks said. "My cleats were stuck too."
The senior quarterback suspects he might have a medial collateral ligament tear, but will soon have x-rays and an MRI taken to find out how serious the injury is and if it will require surgery.
Rhoades is not optimistic he will return.
"Right now, it doesn't look good," he said.
Prior to the Coconino game, Wilbanks had been slowed by a nagging knee injury but was trying to play through it.
"I hurt (the knee) first at homecoming (Sept. 24) and was just trying to be easy on it," Wilbanks said.
If the Apfel-at-quarterback experiment proves successful, it could mean the Longhorns have their starting signal caller returning next season.
The 17-year-old Pine resident hasn't played the position in four years.
"I played quarterback in Pop Warner when we lived in the Valley," he said. "But, I'll give it a try."
With Apfel calling signals, senior fullback Tyler Williams will move to tailback.
Striking a Heisman-like pose and a new mullet hair cut at Monday's morning practice, the feisty Williams was anxious to assume his new duties.
"It will be a little different, but I can do it," he said.
Williams' fullback position will be taken over by junior middle linebacker Cash Armstrong who had been backing up Williams.
Multi-talented senior James Gibson also can play in the backfield but will remain at the Z back, or wingback, position he's been playing most of this year.
Senior Chris Skinner, who had been the second team quarterback behind Wilbanks, will remain the starter at tight end.
One of the keys for Horn success will be for Apfel to remain injury free. As a sophomore, he was sidelined part of the season with hamstring problems. This year, he's been injury free and a work horse for both offense and defense. With his sprinter-like speed, he could add a new dimension to the Longhorn offense. If Apfel finds a seam in the Mingus defense, he could be off to the races.
Fumbles a turning point
The Longhorns spent the week trying to solve the turnover problems that were the team's demise in the loss to Coconino.
"We had five turnovers (four fumbles and an interception). You can't win doing that," Rhoades said.
Williams blamed the miscues on "too many bad decisions," mostly while running the option plays that have been Payson's bread and butter all season.
Payson's first fumble, with about seven minutes remaining in the first quarter, was returned by Panther cornerback and quarterback Will Campbell for 31 yards and a TD.
On the first play of the second half, Armstrong fumble's was recovered by Coconino at the Payson 32.
Five plays later, Coconino scored to take a 14-10 lead.
Payson's two TDs came on interception returns. With 5:56 remaining in the second quarter, Nick Falbo picked off a Campbell pass and took it 30 yards to pay dirt.
Midway through the fourth stanza, Derrick Hoosava returned an interception nine yards for a score.
Mingus (1-6 overall, 0-1 in the region) enters this evening's Grand Canyon clash having lost to Sinagua, 20-6, in its last outing.
Scouting reports indicate Mingus tries to balance its running game with a passing attack. That strategy backfired in the loss to Sinagua when quarterback Jay Arthur completed only 2-of-20 passes for 30 yards. Arthur is, however, a running threat on the bootleg and waggle plays. Against Sinagua, he scored his teams only TD on a keeper from a yard out.
Tonight's game will mark a homecoming of sorts for Rhoades. Prior to taking over the Horns program a year ago, he was the defensive coordinator for the Marauders.