The postseason fate of the Longhorns rests on the results of four remaining East region clashes.
The all-important showdowns begin 7:30 p.m. tonight, Tuesday, in Wilson Dome against the Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets and continue the following evening against Alchesay and Feb. 2 against Round Valley.
All three games are in Wilson Dome. The regular season wraps up Feb. 3 in Show Low.
As crucial as all four games are to PHS playoff hopes, the battle against the Alchesay Falcons could be the most important.
The Horns and the Falcons are locked in a neck-and-neck battle for the East region title and the resulting top seed into the regional tournament.
A PHS win over Alchesay would stamp the Horns as a legitimate contender for the East title.
In the first meeting of the two region foes on Jan. 27 in Whiteriver, Alchesay prevailed, 70-58.
In the Longhorn loss, about 5,000 Falcons fans showed up for what was billed as a showdown between the East's two finest teams.
But the nip and tuck game most expected never became a reality, mostly because Alchesay's Quincy Early owned a red-hot shooting stroke and Payson was its own worst enemy, committing 16 turnovers.
Quincy Early, the East leader in three-point shots with 38 total, hit eight bombs from beyond the three-point arc.
He also finished with a game high of 31 points.
For Payson, Oliver Lewinson entered the game as the East's fourth leading scorer, with a 16 points per game average, but could manage just 12 against the Falcons.
He brought in a team high of 10 rebounds, blocked two shots and recorded two steals.
Senior forward Carlos Lopez turned in what might have been his finest effort since the final game of the 2006 3A state tournament. In that season-ender, he scored 17 points in a 62-55 loss to Chandler Seton.
In the loss to the Falcons, he finished with 15 points, five rebounds, three steals and two assists.
Most importantly, Lopez didn't contribute much to the long list of Horn miscues, committing just one.
Payson's offensive effort against the Falcons also received a boost from Levi Neal, who tallied 12 points. Senior point guard Miles Huff scored 11 and dished out four assists.
As disheartening as the loss to Alchesay left the PHS players, an 84-55 win over homestanding Holbrook on Jan. 24 wrapped up as a work of hardwood art.
"It was our best game, start to finish, of the season," coach Chuck Hardt said. "Especially since (the game) was the second of back-to-back road trips."
In the win, the Horns shot a sizzling 70 percent from the field, cashing in on 26 of 51 attempts. Huff led the onslaught with 18 points that included two-for-two shooting from three-point range.
Hunter Hardt tallied 16 points, was credited with three assists and had four steals.
Lopez scored 11 points and corralled six rebounds.