It's out of the fryin' pan and into the fire for the Longhorn football team.
The skillet is represented by the five non-region games the team has played thus far. Payson has been victorious in all five, but only the power points accrued in those wins have any bearing on the team's quest to earn a berth into the postseason.
The blaze awaiting the Horns is the five red-hot East teams remaining on the schedule. Victories in those clashes will earn Payson a region championship and a number-one seed into the state tournament.
The march into the East inferno begins at 7 p.m. today, Friday, in a homecoming clash against the visiting Show Low Cougars.
The two rivals have a long gridiron history against one another and tonight's battle, if history is any indication, could turn into a rock 'em, sock 'em alley scrap of junkyard dogs.
The Cougars bring to the skirmish a 4-0 record, with three wins over suspect opponents, including Chinle (43-0), Red Mountain Juniors (14-6) and Class 2A Bisbee (69-22). The Cats also beat a 2-3 Globe team by a 34-0 measure.
Show Low had a bye last week.
With the unblemished record, the Cougars enter the game state fourth-ranked against a Longhorn team that has not broken into The Arizona Republic's top-five 3A teams, despite having a 5-0 mark including an impressive win over Class 4A Bradshaw Mountain.
Show Low's popularity in the polls might be a spill over from last season when the Cats were 9-2, second in the East region and a state tournament quarterfinalist.
Turmoil on the Deuce of Clubs
This season, however, the Cougars have a new look.
Randy Ricedorf replaced former SLHS coach Danny Hawkins last December and Jared MacArthur has taken over for last year's signal caller Skippy Holliday, who has been moved to receiver.
The Show Low school board's decision to replace Hawkins with Ricedorf, a former head coach at Trevor Browne, created quite a stir in the White Mountain hamlet.
School officials said the decision to let Hawkins go was because he was not a certified teacher, although he was working towards the certification.
At a Dec. 14, 2006 school board meeting, Hawkins' backers packed the SLHS cafeteria to voice their support for the former coach.
But, the board eventually voted 3-2 to hire Ricedorf.
Among the first changes the coach made was to replace Holliday, son of former SLHS athletic director and former Cougar assistant coach Chris Holliday, with MacArthur.
The new QB has responded by becoming the fourth-leading passer in the East, with 878 yards and the region's fourth-best scorer, with 49 points.
MacArthur has also drawn plaudits from opposing coaches, including Longhorn defensive coordinator Kenny Hayes, "he'll be the best quarterback we've faced this year."
His favorite receiver is senior Jordan Nikolaus, who has 278 yards in receptions in four games.
Nikolaus is also the East region's interception leader with five.
Offensively, MacArthur, Nikolaus, Holliday and teammates operate mostly out of a shotgun formation running powers, sweeps and counters.
In passing situations, the Cougar formations can include from one to four wide receivers.
Scouting reports also indicate about the only time MacArthur has gone under center is when the Cats are in a goal line situation.
Hayes will defend the Cougars with his bandit base 43 defense, mixed with stunts, loops and both zone and man coverage in the backfield.
The Horn "D" features some of the finest defenders in the league, including David Carlen, Bryan Burke, Troy Brown, Ridge Halenar and Matt Wilson.
Carlen is tied for the East region league in tackles with Round Valley linebacker Travis Trickey. Both have 74 takedowns.
Burke is the East sack leader with six. Carlen, Brown and Wilson have three each.
Halenar is tied for third in the region in interceptions, with three.
Offensively for homecoming evening, the Horns are expected to "dance with who brung 'em." Which would mean they'll look to senior fullback Nick Alexander to shoulder the rushing load.
Alexander is the East's No. 1 rusher, with 580 yards.
Junior teammate Nick Goodman is fifth in the East, tallying 309 yards.
Fans can expect the Show Low brain trust to align eight defenders on the line of scrimmage, in an effort to slow the powerful run game.
Which could mean quarterback Ridge Halenar will be called upon to air it out, as he did last week in the Horns 23-14 win over Bradshaw Mountain. Halenar completed 15 of 26 passes, for 166 yards.
Halenar's favorite targets have been Shane Keith, Tyler Savage and Brown.
For the fans, tonight's football game is what small town Arizona prep sports is all about.
It'll be two longtime adversaries squaring off in a classic Friday night lights confrontation with school and personal pride on the line.
Buckle up the chin straps and cinch up the shoulder pads, it's time to play some football, Beast of the East-style.