A 32-8 win over the Alchesay Falcons has set the stage for what could be a battle for the 3A East football championship.
The crucial game, which would pit the Payson Longhorns (5-2, 3-0) against the defending state champion Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets (6-1, 3-1), is scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m. Oct. 14 in Payson High School stadium.
The state's top-ranked Blue Ridge enters the game fresh off last week's 54-7 thumping of the Holbrook Roadrunners. Payson, ranked fifth in the state, tuned up for the title battle Oct. 7 with the win, in Whiteriver, over Alchesay.
Although Blue Ridge and Payson are in position to stake a claim for at least a share of the East crown, the state's fourth-ranked Round Valley (5-2) can't yet be counted out of the race.
The Elks pulled off the upset of the prep season Sept. 30 nipping the undefeated Yellow Jackets 15-7 in Lakeside.
With three games remaining in the East regular season, the possible region finish scenarios and seeds into the state tournament are numerous.
One fact is certain, however -- a Snowflake upset of Round Valley Oct. 14 in the Eagar dome, coupled with a Payson win over Blue Ridge, would be a huge boost for Horn title hopes.
Following the Blue Ridge fray, the Horns wrap up the season Oct. 21 against Round Valley and Oct. 28 at Show Low.
Falcons off to quick start
In the Horns win over Alchesay, Payson scored on the first drive of the game but the Falcons dominated the first half, thanks in part to the Longhorns' sloppy play that included several penalties and some questionable officiating.
At halftime, Alchesay was clinging to an 8-7 lead and had held Payson's standout running back Luke Apfel in check.
Following halftime adjustments by the Horn coaching staff, which included challenging the players to step up, Payson came out on fire scoring 22 unanswered points in the third quarter.
In the fourth, the Longhorns tacked on a field goal to wrap up the 24-point win.
Although longtime statistician Bill Lawson wasn't available in Whiteriver to keep official stats, Apfel unofficially rushed for 200 yards on 18 carries. For the season, he is approaching the 1300-yard mark, which is sure to make him a target for the Yellow Jacket defense.
Defensively against Alchesay, Joe Blackburn had two interceptions and Miles Huff one. Blackburn returned one of his picks for a touchdown.
Following the game, coach Jerry Rhoades praised his players for rallying in the second half with a greater show of confidence.
In other 3A games, Snowflake whipped Show Low 34-6, Safford dumped Seton Catholic 38-24 and Fountain Hills rebounded from a 17-14 homecoming loss at Payson to beat Wickenburg 19-6.