Horns, Falcons Evenly Matched

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Comparative scores can be misleading, but often they are the only way to measure a pair of prep football teams representing different regions.

Such is the case in Payson High School's Sept. 30 homecoming clash that will pit the Longhorns (3-2) against the state third-ranked Fountain Hills Falcons (4-1).

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Homecoming festivities at Payson High School included a rock 'n' roll dress-up day Sept. 28. The garb these students chose was fashioned after the rock group KISS. The students included Kaycee Pugel, Hilary Armenta, Sierra Sommars and Anne Szabo. Other spirit days during the week included Jamaican, Latino, cowboy, and purple and gold. Homecoming wraps up tonight with a football game and the traditional homecoming dance.

The Longhorns are members of the East region, the Falcons represent the West, and the two teams have met just one common opponent -- the Parker Broncos.

Payson saddled the Broncs with a 34-0 loss Aug. 26.

Just two weeks later, the Falcons soared past Parker 41-7.

The comparative scores seem to indicate if you set aside the prep polls -- which rank the Falcons -- the game appears to be a tossup.

For the Horns to emerge from the showdown with a "W," the team will need a rock-solid defensive performance similar to the one churned out last week in a 14-7 upset of Snowflake.

In whipping the Lobos, the Horn "D" completely shut down the running game holding the Lobos to just 14 yards rushing.

When the Lobos went to the airways in frustration, the defense rose to the occasion, intercepting two passes and allowing only eight completions in 21 attempts.

Fountain Hills enters the homecoming clash with a vaunted ground game led by a 6-foot, 3-inch, 225-pound fullback who has beaten up the front seven of four opponents this season.

If linemen Zach Rogers, Zach Miller, Donnie Engler, Kevin Allen, Luke Runzo and linebackers Cash and Steele Armstrong can slow the Falcon's running game, it would be a huge step in chalking up a victory.

Cash Armstrong, however, will be playing homecoming evening with a broken arm suffered early in the win over Snowflake.

Rhoades expects his star linebacker to be able to perform once he is fitted with a playing cast.

As good as Fountain Hills' running game is, the Falcons are not a one-dimensional team.

"They've got a big-time quarterback with a big arm," Payson coach Jerry Rhoades said. "Our scouting reports show they have been averaging about 11 pass plays a half."

The Falcons only loss this season has been to unbeaten and top-ranked Blue Ridge, 18-0.

On "O"

Offensively, Payson has developed a reputation as a ground-oriented team that will not, or cannot, throw the ball.

Coach Jerry Rhoades' philosophy has been to stay on the ground, probably because he has at his beck and call one of the finest tailbacks in the 3A conference -- Luke Apfel.

The senior speedster has already rushed for 801 yards. If he stays on track, and the Horns pick up extra games in the state tournament, he could approach 2,000.

The last 2,000-yard rusher Payson had was Tom Fruth, in 1981.

Apfel, however, might not be at his best in the homecoming showdown. Against Snowflake, he suffered a thigh bruise that still troubles him.

During the past practice week, Rhoades has hinted he will install a passing attack -- to go along with the ground game -- that sophomore quarterback B.J. Hill can succeed with.

"We'll give him some roll outs, sprint passes, things like that," he said.

If the Horns develop a successful aerial game to go along with their rushing attack, Payson could play deep into the state tournament.

Following the homecoming game, the Horns play four successive East region games. The outcome of those will decide the Horns post season fate.

The top four teams from the East region will earn seeds into the state tournament.

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