Region's Coaches Honor Longhorn Players

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Six members of a Payson High School football team that tied Blue Ridge and Round Valley for the region championship were named to the All-East First Team.

Another four were chosen second team and two earned honorable mention accolades.

On the first team offense from PHS were Luke Apfel, Kevin Allen and Donnie Engler. Cash Armstrong, Joe Blackburn and Derrick Hoosava were tapped first team defense.

Second team offensive selections included Luke Runzo and Shelton Keith. Steel Armstrong was chosen to the second team defense.

B.J. Hill received honorable mention honors on offense and Miles Huff was selected on defense.

All players were chosen in a voting of East coaches held at the conclusion of the season.

Apfel's selection was another in a long list of accolades the speedy senior has reaped for turning in a banner season in which he rushed 2,068 yards.

The elusive tailback was also chosen the East Offensive Player of the Year, to the Class 1A-3A All-State first team and a member of the Arizona Coaches Association North All-Star team.

"He had an outstanding year," coach Jerry Rhoades said. The PHS coach will join Apfel on the North, as a co-coach with Winslow's Adam Larsen, when the ACA North vs. South All-Star game is played June 16 at Surprise Stadium. Cash Armstrong was also selected from Payson to participate in the game.

Engler was named to the first team offense as a center and was also chosen all-state honorable mention.

His selection drew plaudits from Rhoades.

"He was the anchor of our team," the coach said. "Nobody worked harder."

One of the best compliments Engler might have drawn came from Blue Ridge coach Paul Moro who told Rhoades, "That center of yours is tough, I'm going to vote for him for all-state."

Allen, who played tackle the past two seasons, was named to the all-state first team offensive line.

"He worked hard in the off season and it showed," Rhoades said.

Cash Armstrong's selection to the East region team as a linebacker was probably the result of his warrior attitude.

"It was a tough year for him," Rhodes said. "He separated his shoulder early and missed two games, then came back only to break both wrists."

In the state tournament opener against Safford, Cash Armstrong played with casts on both wrists, but still managed to record a team high 16 tackles.

"If we had a toughness award, he'd get it," Rhoades said.

In addition to being chosen all-region, Armstrong was an all-state second team selection.

Blackburn was chosen to the East first team defensive backfield. Most of the year for PHS, he played the tough cover corner position.

"He got picked on a lot," Rhoades said.

As difficult as the position is to play, Blackburn used his talent and skill to lead the 3A East in interceptions with six. Two of those picks were returned for TDs.

When discussing Hoosava, Rhoades labels him "the brains of our team; he held things together."

From his free safety and corner positions, Hoosava was responsible for making the defensive calls and checks once the coordinator, Kenny Hayes, had called the defensive scheme from the sideline.

"Derrick had a lot to do out there," Rhoades said.

Second team and honorable mention

For Payson High, Runzo held down the right guard position most of the season and Keith played fullback.

Steel Armstrong, only a freshman, started at linebacker alongside his older brother Cash.

Hill, a sophomore, was the Horns starting signal caller and Huff starred in the Horn defensive backfield.

Both will return to the Longhorn fold next season, giving the team seasoned players on both sides of the ball.

The announcement of the all-region, all-state and all-star players was made at the team's season-ending awards banquet Dec. 8 at the Tonto Apache Tribe's gymnasium.

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