The ominous disease "homecoming-itis" has played cruel tricks on impressionable young high school football players.
It begins with visions of crowning royalty, float-building class competition, pep rallies, cuddling up to girlfriends, dances and parades dancing through their heads.
In about five days, the symptoms expand to include a lack of focus on the goal at hand -- winning a football game.
Did Payson suffer from a case of the dreaded malady Sept. 28, in a 14-7 loss to the Show Low Cougars?
The disorder is tough to diagnose, but all the symptoms were there.
Just ask coach Josh Anderson.
"We did so many uncharacteristic things as an entire team, which Show Low had absolutely nothing to do with," he said. "For example, lining up wrong on offense and defense, not hearing the play call in the huddle, bringing in the wrong offensive play to the huddle, blocking the wrong defenders, falling down, false starting when we didn't know the snap count and a key substitution error."
With those symptoms, it sure sounds like Payson was suffering from the homecoming ailment.
Knowing the disease wreaks havoc on teams and their fans, athletic directors usually try to schedule for the annual game, patsy teams representing little sisters of the poor.
By doing so, coaches don't have to worry as much about their players' lack of focus.
But for Payson, their homecoming opponent was the 4-0, state-fourth ranked Cougars.
Rendering the game even more crucial is that it was the all-important East region opener for both schools.
With Payson's loss, the Horns fall to 5-1 and 0-1 in the East. Show Low improves to 6-0 and 1-0.Next on the East horizon is the Round Valley Elks who lost Friday, 28-6 to the Snowflake Lobos.
"Our biggest task this week is not Round Valley, but getting the energy and excitement back in these kids," Anderson said.
The coach then offered upeven more evidence that homecoming-itis adversely affected the Horns' play in the loss to Show Low.
"When we did do good things, there was no celebrating together like we always do.
"On our TD, on (David) Carlen's interception, we just had no bursts of excitement on the sideline or on the field."
Anderson and his staff can take heart in knowing the Longhorns are not the first high school team to have suffered a gut-wrenching defeat, after suffering from the frightful homecoming bug.
The trick now, is to get better before traveling to Eagar to take on the Elks.
If the Horns recover, Anderson predicts, "When we play with our best attitude and effort, we're going to be hard to stop."
Low scoring clash
In the loss to Show Low, the Cougars scored 14 points in the second quarter, while holding Payson scoreless throughout the half. The Horns scored midway through the third period on senior fullback Nick Alexander's TD plunge. Josh Frewin's successful conversion kick closed the cat lead to 14-7. With 1:36 remaining in the game, Payson was in possession of the ball at the SL 10-yard line and driving for what would have been the game-tying touchdown.
But, the Horns fumbled and Show Low's Styles Reidhead recovered to put an end to Payson's rally hopes.
For the Horns, Nick Alexander led all ball carriers, picking up 81 carries on 11 attempts. Through the airways, quarterback Ridge Halenar completed seven of 13 passes for 51 yards, but was intercepted once and lost a fumble.
In other East region action Friday evening, the Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets improved to 5-0, with a 57-0 win over Alchesay.
Show Low and Snowflake now lead the East standings with 6-0 and 1-0 records. Blue Ridge is second at 5-0 and 1-0.