Payson Takes Aim At State

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The race for East region championship -- which has been dominated by Blue Ridge for the past two decades -- turned interesting Sept. 30 when Round Valley pulled off the upset of the season, whipping the Yellow Jackets 15-7.

With the Elks' win, the East now has just two undefeated teams -- Round Valley and Payson.

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The Payson Longhorn defense is being counted on to turn in a third consecutive standout performance Oct. 7 at Alchesay. In last week's 17-14 homecoming win over Fountain Hills, defenders Derrick Hoosava (33), Joe Blackburn (29) and Zach Rodgers (9) teamed up to bring down the Falcons' H.P. Rollins (40).

The region leaders are both 2-0 and have four East games remaining in the regular season.

Trailing in the standings are Blue Ridge (2-1), Snowflake (1-1), Show Low (1-2), Holbrook (0-2) and Alchesay (0-3).

Because each region in the 3A conference sends four teams to the state tournament, Payson is virtually a lock to earn the state berth denied the team the past two seasons it was in the 4A Grand Canyon region.

But as important as going to state is, the seed -- 1, 2, 3 or 4 -- with which the Horns advance is even more crucial.

In the upcoming state tournament bracket, East state qualifiers are paired off in the first round against South region seeds.

The four South qualifiers could be Coolidge (3-0), Sahuarita (2-1), Safford (2-1) and Seton Catholic (1-1).

Going into state with as lofty as possible East seed would increase the Longhorns' chances of playing deep into the tournament and possibly staking claim to the school's third state title.

But before there can be any talk about the postseason, the Longhorns need to take care of East business Oct. 7 against Alchesay in Whiteriver.

In most seasons, a win over the Falcons would almost be a given.

After all, football is not the sport of choice on the Apache Reservation; it's a basketball hot bed.

Most good athletes spend the season shooting hoops on many of the outdoor courts that dot the small town.

But this season, the Falcons have turned out a respectable football team that has posted a 3-3 record and gave Round Valley fits Sept. 23, losing only by a 14-6 margin.

The Falcons have long had a reputation of fielding a wide-open offense that can be tough to deal with if a few players get a hot hand.

"They run a double wing and it can be impossible to stop," PHS coach Jerry Rhoades said.

Last week, Show Low jumped out to a 25-0 lead over Alchesay only to see the Falcons soar back to score 26 points in the second half.

Although Show Low prevailed 45-26, the Falcons' second-half offensive fireworks were proof that when Alchesay gets on a roll, it can light up the scoreboard.

The Falcon offense features Eddison Walker, who broke off a nifty 46-yard run and scored on a two-point conversion against Show Low.

Also for Alchesay, Tadashi Harvey returned a Show Low kick off 86 yards for a touchdown and scored a second TD on a four-yard run.

Like Payson, Alchesay starts a sophomore quarterback in Harold Quintero. The youngster showed some moxie against Show Low, hooking up with tight end Bruce Burnett on a 54-yard pass.

In Payson 17-14 homecoming upset win Sept. 30 over Fountain Hills, the Horns did not complete a pass.

Ignoring the airways, the Longhorns relied on the running of senior scat back Luke Apfel who rushed for 300 yards.

For the season, Apfel has rushed for 1,101 yards and is rapidly becoming a big time target for opposing defenses.

Hard-running fullback Shelton Keith and Brennon McLaws add to the Horns solid running attack.

As good as the Longhorns ground game has been, it has been the Longhorn defense that keeps opponents frustrated.

In a 14-7 East win over Snowflake two weeks ago and against Fountain Hills, the defense has come into its own. Snowflake had only 14 yards rushing and Fountain Hills ground out 195.

Led by a front seven that included down linemen Zach Rogers, Zach Miller, Donnie Engler, Kevin Allen, Luke Runzo and linebackers Cash and Steele Armstrong, the group will be a key to a victory over Alchesay.

Kick off is 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 7 at Alchesay High School.

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