The key to a Longhorn victory over Fountain Hills might be containing a senior running back/defensive back who missed most of last season due to injuries.
Rob Rossfeld, 6 feet, 205 pounds, is said to have returned to top form after sitting out the first half of last season due to a groin injury.
Although Rossfeld was absent most of the campaign he still managed to lead the team in yards per carry (5.8). He also rushed for six touchdowns and scored two TDs on pass receptions.
This season, he is one of seven returning offensive starters and eight returnees on defense.
"They have a lot of athletes back," PHS coach Josh Anderson said. "They are bigger and more experienced than they were last year."
In the 2007 season opener, the Horns survived a late Falcon rally to win 28-19.
Early in the third quarter Payson led 28-0 only to see the Falcons come roaring back with 19 unanswered points.
Among the reasons for the amazing comeback was the loss of several PHS players who were relegated to the bench with severe heat cramps.
After that game, Anderson enlisted the help of a group of parents to design a diet plan that would meet the nutritional needs of the players and help them avoid cramps.
With the searing desert temperatures expected to be about 100 degrees at kick off this evening, Aug. 29, in Fountain Hills, the players must be fully hydrated to avoid the pitfalls suffered last year in much cooler Payson.
Although Rossfeld appears to be the gridiron stud in Falcon land, he has plenty of help from other returning veterans. Safety Andrew Leger, middle linebacker Zach Rollings and cornerback Conner Ruppert, all seniors, form the nucleus of a "D" Falcon fans are touting as rock solid.
Offensively, scouting reports indicate the Falcons will run parts of the Wing T, which means, traps, sweeps, boots and waggles, along with some new wrinkles.
"In viewing their scrimmage, they have more plays/packages installed right now," Anderson said. "They will run a lot of trips (three-receiver sides), double tights, shotgun, empty backfield and have some motions."
Coach Jim Fairfield also is known to expertly run counter plays, play actions and the puzzling quarterback bootlegs that can leave frustrated defensive backs caught between trying to defend the pass or come up and stop the run.
"They have two good quarterbacks that are very good running QBs and who throw the ball hard and with good accuracy," Anderson said.
"We definitely have to be very sound on each position of defense this week."
Defensive coordinator Kenny Hayes is also well aware of how much potential the Falcons have in their offensive arsenal.
"They are pretty talented, the injured players from last year are back and their young players have all kinds of experience," he said.
Last season, the Falcons finished 5-6, but won four of their final five games. The team was eliminated from the state tournament by a first round 28-6 loss to Blue Ridge.
Big boys, literally
Among the keys for Payson this evening will be controlling the line of scrimmage to slow FH's offense and crank up the Horns' power-based option offense which mainly features the off-tackle running game.
With the largest line in school history, controlling the LOS should not be a problem. Among those who will shoulder the responsibility are Mason Dacanay (5 feet, 10 inches, 297 pounds), Matt Wilson (6 feet, 6 inches, 265 pounds), Bryan Burke (6 feet, 4 inches, 227 pounds), Logan Garner (5 feet, 9 inches, 232 pounds) and Schaffer Keith (6 feet, 1 inch, 284 pounds).
In the 1980s, the Wendy's hamburger chain ran a humorous ad that asked, "Where's the beef?" No one is uttering that that question about the Longhorn offensive and defensive lines.
To go along with the mammoth linemen, Payson has a skilled quarterback, promising running backs and several proven receivers.
Ridge Halenar pulls the trigger in the power option game as he has since he was a sophomore unleashed into the inferno of varsity competition.
That season, Halenar took a vicious pounding especially in a 40-0 loss to archrival Blue Ridge.
This year, Halenar returns bigger, stronger, smarter, faster and more battle wise. The 2008 season could be the one in which it is his turn to dish out a bit of the punishment he once absorbed.
In the backfield, Anderson can call upon Brandon Alexander (5 feet, 8 inches, 170 pounds), Nick Goodman (5 feet, 7 inches, 161 pounds), David Carlen (6 feet, 2 inches, 214 pounds) or Nick Johnson (5 feet, 10 inches, 170-pounds).
Among the top receiving threats is 6-foot-3-inch, 186-pound Tyler Savage who was an all-region selection last season.
Also in the receiving mix is Ryan Hintze (6 feet, 4 inches, 185 pounds), Shane Keith (6 feet, 185 pounds), Cody York (6 feet, 2 inches, 170 pounds) and tight end Jeff Day (6 feet, 2 inches, 179 pounds).
All give the Horns reliable receivers if the Payson brain trust decides to go to the airways.
Kick off this evening is at 7 p.m.
The Horns make their home debut Sept. 5 against Winslow.