A game that the Payson Longhorns were counting on to make the state playoffs, turned into a disaster when the Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets throttled the visiting Longhorns 40-0 Friday night.
The Longhorns battled Blue Ridge almost to standstill in the first half, but the second half turned out to be a completely different story.
Blue Ridge outscored the Horns 37-0 in the second half in Lakeside. The Horns' first-half defensive blocking couldn't stand up to the sting of the Jackets' second-half offense.
"The second half, our defense was on the field too much because our offense was not producing and not sustaining long drives and they got a little worn out," Coach Josh Anderson said. "And the score started to get out of hand."
At half time, Blue Ridge led by a single field goal, but by the beginning of the second half, the Horns' offense began to struggle as its players were unable to hang onto the ball.
The Horns difficulty running the ball, rushing for only 79 yards, 33 carries for a 2.3 average, led to a devastating loss.
Payson stuck mostly with the running game, attempting 17 passes after falling behind by a large margin. Two of the 17 passes were intercepted.
Payson turned the ball over four times, giving Blue Ridge the momentum, forcing the Horns to spend too much time on defense.
Zach Brooks and Ridge Halenar were a combined eight for 17 in the passing game for 104 yards.
Two-way player Steel Armstrong, formerly a Horns' linebacker who transferred to Blue Ridge earlier this year after being booted off the Longhorns' team, helped the Jackets thwart the Horns' passing game.
Anderson said the Jackets capitalized on their game-winning offense for the strong finish. And Armstrong, the backbone of the Jackets' defense, kept the Horn offense from penetrating the line.
"They forced us to run outside," Anderson said. "We couldn't run up the gut.
"We had our second-half blues. We haven't seen that in a while. We came out and had too many turnovers right away. We just went backwards on offense and didn't get things done the way we wanted on half time."
The Horns' loss could keep the team from making the state playoffs. The team must triumph over at least one of the two next teams in the coming weeks for a playoff berth.
With Blue Ridge moving up to a season 5-3 record, that could be a challenge. The Horns, with 4-4 overall record -- 2-2 in the eastern White Mountain Conference -- face the two teams considered by many to be the best in the region.
Next week the Horns travel to undefeated Round Valley, followed by powerhouse Show Low.
Kickoff is 7 p.m.