A jazzed-up Parents' Night crowd found itself watching the "Luke Apfel Show" highlight the Longhorns' 3A East regional 35-3 upset of the Round Valley Elks.
After the curtain rose Oct. 21 in PHS stadium, the speedy scatback dazzled the audience, scoring three touchdowns and rushing for a school record 384 yards on 29 carries.
"It was fun out there," Apfel said. "I think it was the best game we've played."
His efforts led the Longhorns to a relatively easy win over a Round Valley team that entered the fray ranked fourth in the state and atop the region standings.
With the win, Payson (6-3) took over the No. 4 state slot and Round Valley (6-3) fell to fifth. The Elks are also the only team to have defeated top-ranked Blue Ridge (8-1) this season.
Round Valley's loss drops the Elks into a three-way tie for the East lead with Payson and Blue Ridge. All three teams now sport 4-1 region records, with only Oct 28 games remaining in the regular season.
In Apfel's onslaught of the Elks were a trio of nifty TD scampers on isolation and blunt plays behind linemen Kevin Allen, Donnie Engler and Steel Armstrong.
On the first score, Apfel broke loose for 42 yards. The next, he ran for 74 yards and the final TD, which came with 2:21 remaining in the second quarter, covered 93 yards.
"I really got some good blocking from the line and when I broke into the second level (of the defense) it was wide open," Apfel said.
As good as the senior speedster's rushing mark was, it is not a state record.
Stanley Jackson set the 3A record of 469 yards in a 1976 game that pitted Chinle vs. Red Mesa.
The 5A record of 367 yards was set by current NFL player Terrell Suggs, then of Chandler Hamilton, in a 1999 game against Yuma Kofa.
The efforts of Apfel and his teammates in the crucial victory drew praise from third-year coach Jerry Rhoades.
"Our kids have accepted every challenge put in front of them," he said. "They've stepped up and worked harder each time they've been asked to.
"Sometimes, I don't think they've drawn respect around the league, but they deserve a lot of credit."
Defensive coordinator Kenny Hayes, who saw his rock-solid 4-3 defense hold the Elks to 230 yards of total offense, also lauded the players.
"We had a great effort and the three turnovers -- two interceptions and a strip -- were big for us," he said.
On the first turnover, which came with 28 seconds remaining in the first quarter, Zach Miller intercepted a Trevor Nicoll screen pass and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown. That score, coupled with Nate Doyle's conversion kick, lifted the Horns to a 14-0 lead.
With 7:47 remaining in the fourth quarter and Round Valley searching for some type of offense, Miles Huff made a leaping interception of Nicoll's pass that thwarted a short RV drive.
Freshman Steel Armstrong got in the standout defensive act, stripping the ball loose, and recovering it, from an Elk running back.
The Horn defensive line was also at its intimidating best, chalking up five sacks and putting the clamps on what had proven to be a decent high school offense.
The only points the Horns allowed -- a 30-yard RV field goal -- capped a six-play, 60-yard Elk drive with 1:20 remaining in the third quarter.
As good as the defense is becoming, it might be shorthanded when the Horns wrap up the season Oct. 28 in Show Low.
Senior middle or "Mike" linebacker Cash Armstrong -- who was already playing with a broken hand -- broke his other hand and could be out for the remainder of the season.
"We could be hurting without him," Hayes said.
Offensively against the Elks, Payson finished with one of its finest nights of the season, committing just one turnover and polishing off 429 yards in offense.
The passing game, however, continued to sputter, with only one completion in four attempts.
The aerial game, Rhoades said in midseason, might have to take a back seat if Apfel continues his rushing antics.
In addition to Apfel's output, the Horns received 37 yards rushing from B.J. Hill and 27 from Shelton Keith, who scored on a one-yard TD run with 7:59 remaining in the first quarter.
After lighting up the scoreboard for 35 points in the first half, the Horns failed to score in the second.
In time of possession, Payson had the ball for 31:20 and RV owned it for 28:40.