Longhorn football coach Josh Anderson, still reeling from a 34-3 loss to the Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets and a three-game losing streak, isn't ready to throw in the towel.
"We are going to continue to fight on these next two weeks to get ourselves in position for the playoffs," he said. "I truly believe we are a better team than we were three weeks ago."
Those two weeks will include regular season-ending games against Alchesay (Oct. 19) and Snowflake (Oct. 26).
The playoffs kick off Nov. 2 at the home site of the highest seed.
Alchesay (3-5 overall, 0-3 in the East) shares the cellar slot in the region along with the Longhorns, who are 5-3 and 0-3. State fifth-ranked Snowflake (7-1 overall, 2-1 in the East) remains in contention for the East championship, despite being upset last Friday 37-7 by the Show Low Cougars.
In the Longhorns loss to Blue Ridge (7-0 overall, 3-0 in the East), Oct. 12 in Lakeside, Payson found itself in the same pickle most Jacket foes struggle against -- BR's quickness and execution.
"Their speed was the absolute difference in the ball game," Anderson said. "Simply put, they were just better than us that night."
In the loss, the Yellow Jackets build a 13-0 first quarter lead and tacked on two more scores in the second stanza to lead 27-3 at halftime.
Payson had a TD called back with about 10 minutes remaining the first quarter that would have closed the BR cushion to 14-7. However, officials flagged Payson and negated the score for an "assisting a runner" penalty.
On the play, a Payson player was charged with pushing running back Nick Goodman into the end zone.
Following the penalty, the Horns could never again reach pay dirt and had to settle for Josh Frewin's 20-yard field goal.
The kick capped a nine-play 80-yard drive that was Payson's most impressive march of the game.
In the second half, Payson righted its listing, defensive ship to hold the Jackets to a single TD.
Most frustrating, however, for defensive coordinator Kenny Hayes was the quick-strike ability of the Jacket offense.
The Jackets scored in three plays on a 67-yard drive, three plays that covered 82 yards, a two-play 47-yard march and another two plays for 41 yards.
The four TD drive durations were for spans of one minute, one minute, 44 seconds and 27 seconds.
The Jackets final TD march covered 61 yards in three plays and consumed just 1:07 on the game clock.
Simply put, a fan who blinked might have missed a touchdown.
"In those five plays, they amassed 270 yards and five touchdowns, and their shortest TD was 41 yards," Anderson said. "With the exception of those five plays, we battled pretty even with them."
For Payson, the East region's leading rusher, Nick Alexander, was held to 32 yards on 11 carries.
Senior running back B.J. Hill had one of his more impressive efforts, racking up 70 yards on 14 carries against a vaunted BR defense that had held its three previous opponents scoreless and had given up only 26 points, all season long.
Payson's power option offense was limited to 129 yards rushing and 87 through airways. Quarterback Ridge Halenar completed seven of 20 passes.
Although the team's current three-game losing streak is a disappointment, especially after opening the season 5-0, the Horns might have a shot at revenge.
"We have lost to the number one, three and four teams in the state, but I think we'll get another chance at them in the playoffs," Anderson said.
That opportunity would arrive as a result of a power points berth into the state tournament. The Horns are currently ranked No. 6 in power points, but because each of the four region winners receive a number-one state seed, Payson would advance to the 3A tournament as a number-eight seed, if the playoff was to begin today.
In other 3A conference games Oct. 12, Wickenburg (8-0) beat Parker 21-17 and Round Valley (6-1) romped over Whiteriver Alchesay 57-6.