The Longhorns bona fide opponent in the opening round of the state tournament might not be the Holbrook Roadrunners.
It could be the team’s attitude.
More than a few high school teams have fallen by the wayside because individual players were brash and foolhardy when taking on a supposedly “inferior” opponent.
Probably the best way to overcome presumptuous approaches is for the players to adhere to the old coaching adage of “play ’em one at a time.”
The gridiron maxim sounds a bit trite, but Payson High School football coach Josh Anderson is well aware that his athletes could be sidetracked by a tendency to look down the playoff road rather than focusing only on the Roadrunners.
He promises, however, “We won’t be looking past anybody.”
The inclination to pooh-pooh the Roadrunners is easily understandable. After all, they are not the Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets, not even close.
The Runners finished the season 6-5 playing in a historically weak North football region. Also, the Roadrunners narrowly edged into the postseason, taking the 16th and final seed. Payson enters the tournament as the No. 1 seed and undefeated East Region champions.
Rendering the Roadrunner resume even less spectacular is that the team lost in regular season to Alchesay, a team Payson humbled 41-8.
So, what does the Holbrook arsenal feature that will keep the Horns’ attention on tomorrow’s (Nov. 8) state tournament opener?
Among their weapons are junior Adrian Perkins who leads the North Region in rushing with 868 yards and James Lerma who has 445 yards.
Through the airways, Joe Gillespie has thrown for 392 yards, most of it to favorite receiver Tyler Stingley, the North Region’s second leading receiver with 410 yards. He also is third in scoring with 62 points.
As good as the two have been, Payson might just have the one-two punch to shut them down in defensive ends Bryan Burke and Matt Wilson.
The Horn bookends have combined for 10 sacks and in last week’s 52-15 win over Snowflake, the pair harassed the Lobo signal caller all evening long.
“They did their job well off the edges
and they even put some big pressure every time their QB tried to throw a pass,” Anderson said.
Scouting reports indicate the Roadrunners operate mostly in the Wing-T, but, oddly enough, don’t pull linemen, which is a strength of that offense.
“So, we’ll key the fullback and let him take us to the play with our defensive ends taking care of the counter, boot and cutback plays,” Anderson said. “They do have size and some speed.”
A big part of the Wing-T is the trap plays in the center-guard gap.
Those, however, could prove as worthless as a 401k in today’s economy if Horn defenders counter them as well as they did in the win over Snowflake.
Longhorn linemen Logan Garner, Mason Dacanay, Schaffer Keith and Ryan Schatz shut the door on traps, which were Lobo favorites entering the game.
Also on hand to put the clamps on any offense Holbrook tries to execute are crunch brothers David Carlen and Tyler Savage. Carlen, a middle linebacker, is second in the East in tackles with 138, and Carlen, also a linebacker, ranks third with 110.
Holbrook shouldn’t count out junior Nick Johnson as a defender who must be blocked. He now has 93 tackles and is ranked fifth in the East.
Trio leads Runner “D”
Defensively for Holbrook, senior Lewis Maestas is third in the North in tackles with 102 and Ryan Best has four sacks. Stingley anchors the defensive backfield with four interceptions.
The three defenders are integral parts of Holbrook’s 4-4 and 5-2 defensive schemes that usually are in cover 3, but sometimes switch to man-to-man coverage.
“They like to blitz and twist almost every down on defense so we’ll have our hands full,” Anderson said.
The Longhorns will counter Maestas, Best, Stingley and the remaining Holbrook defenders with a power option offense that has been churning along like a supercharged V-8.
Fullback David Carlen leads the ground-oriented offense in rushing with 835 yards, but the team is buoyed by a host of backs coaches continually rotate into the game.
They include Nick Goodman, Cliff Lopez, Brandon Alexander and Payson Herring.
Herring, a sophomore speedster, must have seemed like a blur to Lobo defenders who could never corral him, especially during one 60-yard scoring scamper. Herring finished the night with a game-high 152 yards on nine carries.
“He had another outstanding game,” Anderson said.
But when fans and boosters talk about the Longhorn offense, the player pulling the trigger, quarterback Ridge Halenar, is usually the topic.
During the regular season, in which the Horns compiled a 10-0 record, Halenar averaged 8.81 yards on 53 carries and threw for 877 yards, completing 52 of 91 attempts.
If the Longhorns win tomorrow, Payson will advance to a state second-round game to be played at 7 p.m. Nov. 15 at Mesa High School.
The opponent would be the winner of the first-round game between Safford and Snowflake.
Kick off tomorrow against Holbrook is at 7 p.m. in Longhorn Stadium.