A pulsating 49-19 win over Snowflake put a screeching halt to the almost 30-year dominance the Lobos have enjoyed over Payson.
The triumph, which was chalked up Oct. 26 on PHS field, marked only the third time in the history of the PHS vs. SHS rivalry, that the Longhorns have emerged victorious in varsity football. "The curse is over and will remain over for many years," an elated coach Josh Anderson said, after the remarkably easy regular season ending win.
The victory improved Payson's record to 7-3 overall, 2-3 in the East, and earned the team a tie for third place in the final standings with Snowflake and Round Valley. The Elks and Lobos also wrapped up the East campaign 2-3.
The Horns, who finished fourth in 3A conference power points, will advance to the state tournament, as the East bronze medalist and clutching a No. 6 seed.
The Longhorns open the state tournament Nov. 2 in Payson against the No. 11 seeded Parker Broncos of the West region.
Payson did not receive the No. 4 power points seed, because in the new system, the top-four seeds are reserved for region champions, which were Blue Ridge (East), Winslow (North), Coolidge (South) and Wickenburg (West). Show Low, the East region runner-up, received the No. 5 seed, because the Cougars had more power points than Payson.
The Horns received the sixth berth, rather than Round Valley or Snowflake, since Payson had more power points than the Elks and Lobos.
PHS enters the postseason on somewhat of a roll, having ended the past campaign with back-to-back wins after dropping three consecutive East clashes in the middle of the season.
"We have been progressing well, even in our loss to Blue Ridge (34-3 on Oct. 12)." Anderson said. "We are peaking at the right time and will continue to get better at our discipline and intensity."
The coach attributed the team's improvement over the past two games to "the kids having bought into each other and the coaching staff."
In whipping the Lobos, Payson jumped out to a 7-0 lead, with 5:03 remaining in the first first quarter on senior fullback Nick Alexander's one-yard TD plunge. Josh Frewin toed the conversion kick.
The scores capped a determined 11-play 68-yard drive engineered by quarterback Ridge Halenar. Nick Alexander's TD was the first of three he scored in the PHS victory. Frewin also shined, kicking seven-of-seven extra points.
Payson upped the lead to 14-0 in the second quarter on Halenar's six-yard run.
The Horns scored a third TD before halftime, but the Lobos countered with one of their own to pull with 21-7, as both teams headed for the locker room.
In the second half, Payson dominated play, outscoring the Lobos 28-12, thanks in part to D passes from Halenar to Shane Keith and Troy Brown. Keith's catch covered 21 yards and Brown's went for 47 yards.
While the Horn "O" was firing on all cylinders, defensive coordinator Kenny Hayes' bandits were keeping the high-powered Lobo offense, led by speedsters Devon Peterson and Matt Reidhead, in check.
About the only serious defensive lapse the Horns suffered occurred with about eight minutes remaining in the game, when Nick Reidhead hooked up with Cody Overley on a 60-yard TD.
Individually, sophomore tailback Brandon Alexander, Nick's younger brother, finished with 115 yards on 13 carries. Brandon Alexander also caught two passes for 33 yards.
Nick Alexander bulled his way between the tackles, for 61 yards on 15 carries.
With the win over the Lobos, the Alexander brothers now have reasons to good-naturedly chide their father, who was a member of Longhorns teams in 1986 and 1987 that lost three times to the Lobos, once in the state championship.
Also turning in a stellar rushing effort against the Lobos was sophomore Cliff Lopez, who racked up 45 yards on five carries. One of those carries was a 37-yard TD scamper, with 3:19 remaining in the game.
Through the airways, Halenar completed seven of 17 passes, for 139 yards.
Other state tournament opening round games are:
No. 16 Fountain Hills at No. 1 Blue Ridge
No. 9 River Valley at No. 8 Snowflake
No. 12 Holbrook at No. 5 Show Low
No. 13 Maricopa at No. 4 Winslow
No. 14 Santa Cruz at No. 3 Coolidge
No. 10 Chino Valley at No. 7 Round Valley
No. 15 Ganado at No. 2 Wickenburg
f the state tournament qualifiers from outside the East region, Payson has beaten Fountain Hills, Winslow and Chino Valley.
Although earning a state tournament bid has been the Horns' goal since last summer, the team has even loftier aspirations.
"We have bigger plans than just making the playoffs," Anderson said.
Those goals include reaching the 3A state championship game, which will be played Nov. 23 at the University of Arizona in Tucson.