There haven't been many football seasons since Joe Girardi built Blue Ridge into a state power in the mid 1970s that the Yellow Jackets have had to scramble for a playoff berth.
During most gridiron campaigns, the powerful Jackets have been in the hunt for the state championship.
But this year, Blue Ridge is struggling with a 4-3 overall record, 2-2 in the East. They need a win tonight, Friday, against Payson to advance to the state tournament as one of the region's top four seeds.
The Longhorns (4-3, 2-1) also need a victory in Lakeside to nail down a berth in the postseason playoffs.
With both teams battling for an all-important win, the Payson vs. Blue Ridge showdown is being billed as the biggest game of the year for both teams.
Most of Blue Ridge's woes this year have been attributed to injuries to key players.
Following a 24-10 loss to Round Valley, Paul Moro, who has been at the helm of the BR program since 1984, said, "We've got so many young, inexperienced players and those guys did a great job. A lot of them are like JV players, and they make mistakes. But I'm proud of our guys for playing hard. Hopefully, we'll get better."
It's unclear which players will be on the sidelines this evening, but Moro did hold several of the injured out of last week's 63-6 pounding of the hapless Holbrook Roadrunners.
In that BR win, Moro drew some criticism on a White Mountain Football Web site "Smack Board" for running up the score.
Some others defended the Jacket coach saying he did not keep his starters on the field during a 28-point third quarter blitzkrieg.
In the win, former Longhorn all-region linebacker Steel Armstrong who transferred to BR two weeks ago, scored a touchdown on a 2-yard run late in the game.
Also shining in the game for the Yellow Jackets was sophomore Matthew Boyd who caught a TD pass, ran back a kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown, blocked two kicks and had 11 tackles on defense.
For Payson, dealing with Armstrong and slowing Boyd will be crucial to a victory, but the biggest challenge in stinging the Jackets will be the battle in the trenches.
Blue Ridge traditionally thrives behind a small, lightning-quick offensive line that consistently beats opponents off the ball.
Behind the well-coached line, Jacket backs run amuck on quick dives and traps.
For Payson to emerge victorious, Longhorn down defenders -- Kevin Connor, Scott Andrus, Mike Young, Bryan Bruke, Nick Walker and Zach Rodgers -- must control the line of scrimmage and take away the Jackets quick-strike capability.
Offensively, the Horns must do away with the penalties that have been a problem for them the past few games and unleash a well-balanced passing and running attack that will keep Blue Ridge defenders guessing.
In other East region action today, Alchesay plays Holbrook and league leading Round Valley takes on Snowflake. Show Low has a nonregion showdown against Raymond S. Kellis.
Kickoff is at 7 p.m.