For three full quarters, the Payson Longhorns played the state top-ranked Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets to a standoff.
During the other quarter, however, the Jackets outscored Payson 13-0 to salvage a 35-21 East region victory.
With the win Oct. 14 in PHS stadium, the Jackets improve their East record to 3-1 (7-1 overall) and remain in a tie with Payson (3-1; 5-3) and the Round Valley Elks (3-1; 6-2) for the region lead.
The tie involving the Longhorns and Elks will be undone Oct. 21 in Payson when the two teams clash in what will be a crucial showdown. Kick off is at 7 p.m.
Because Round Valley owns an earlier season win over Blue Ridge, the Elks can virtually nail down a tie for the East championship and a No. 1 seed to the state tournament with a win over Payson.
A Longhorn victory, however, would keep hopes alive for a region tie and the advantageous top seed to state.
In the Longhorn loss to BR, Frank Parkinson got the Jackets out to a 7-0 lead on a 54-yard scoring romp with 10:59 remaining in the first quarter.
Late in the stanza, the Jackets expanded the cushion to 13-0 on a three-yard run by Anthony Martinez. The score capped an eight-play 52-yard drive.
The Horns scored their only TD of the first half on a four-yard pass from sophomore quarterback B.J. Hill to tailback Luke Apfel.
For the game, Apfel finished with three touchdowns and 152 yards rushing on 28 carries.
The senior's two, third quarter TDs pulled the Longhorns to within 28-21 and kept Horn hopes alive for an upset of the defending state champion Yellow Jackets.
Those hopes were dashed, however, with 4:53 remaining in the game when Yellow Jacket Michael Petty intercepted a Hill pass and returned in 31 yards for a TD.
That interception and two other turnovers, coupled with Blue Ridge's mistake-free play, spelled the demise of the Longhorns.
If the two teams should meet again in the 3A state tournament, a key to whipping the Jackets -- in addition to eliminating turnovers -- will be to find a way to slow BR's vaunted ground game.
The Jackets, led by Parkinson's 128 yards, were formidable, racking up 289 yards rushing on 41 attempts.
The Horns finished with respectable numbers -- 143 yards rushing and 79 yards passing.
Although the Longhorns lost to BR, Payson retained the No. 5 state ranking held for the past two weeks.
Blue Ridge is ranked No. 1, Coolidge (5-1) is second and Winslow (7-1) third. At 6-2, Round Valley is fourth-ranked.
Following the showdown against Round Valley, the Horns wrap up the season Oct. 28 in Show Low.
If Payson can finish either first or second in the final East standings, the Horns would open state play Nov. 4 at home. If the Horns fall to either third or fourth, the team must travel to the home site of a higher seed.