Ridge Halenar, quarterback for the Payson Longhorns rolls out for a pass early in the first half of their game against the Holbrook Roadrunners, Saturday, Nov. 8. The Longhorns won 63-0.
The 16th-seeded Holbrook Roadrunners were no match for the Payson Longhorns in the opening round of the Class 3A state football tournament.
In the clash played Nov. 7 on PHS field, Payson steamrolled over the outmanned Runners 62-0, confirming why the Longhorns entered the tournament as the state’s No. 1 seed.
With the victory, the Longhorns advance to the tournament’s second round and will play at 7 p.m. Nov. 15 at Mesa High School. Payson’s opponent, the Snowflake Lobos, advanced after beating Safford, 34-21, in a first-round game played in Safford.
In whipping Holbrook, the Longhorns cranked up a passing attack that was somewhat suspect in the team’s 13-7 regular season win over state second-seeded Blue Ridge.
Although Payson survived that showdown between the state’s two finest teams, Longhorn receivers dropped several passes that would have gone for big yardage and possibly resulted in scores.
But against Holbrook, hands were like glue, as receivers hauled in nine of quarterback Ridge Halenar’s 13 passes for 107 yards and three touchdowns.
The first scoring aerial came with 8:05 remaining in the first quarter when wideout Tyler Savage caught a 3-yard pass from Halenar.
The score was set up by Savage’s pass interception and 15-yard return only minutes earlier.
Early in the second quarter with Payson leading 14-0, Cody York hauled in a 20-yard TD pass that capped an eight-play, 30-yard drive.
The third TD pass lit up the scoreboard with 10:36 remaining in the third quarter when Halenar threw 27 yards to Shane Keith.
In addition to the three TD passes, the Horns’ scoring machine was on fire during Westin Gibson’s 38-yard punt return for a touchdown, and TD runs by David Carlen, Brandon Alexander, Cliff Lopez, Nick Goodman and Nick Johnson.
During the course of the evening, nine Longhorns scored touchdowns.
There could have been even more individuals scoring had Payson had the services of speedy sophomore Payson Herring who was sidelined with a knee injury incurred at a Nov. 5 practice.
Coaches say Herring is being treated but it is uncertain when he will return to action.
What the Horn arsenal did have from the sophomore class was Gibson who was a force on special teams returning three Holbrook punts for 83 yards.
Alexander also shined returning two punts for 45 yards.
While special teams and the offense were firing on all cylinders, the Horn defense was turning back Holbrook’s Wing-T at every turn.
On Holbrook’s three possessions following Savage’s first-quarter interception, the Roadrunners went three plays for two yards, three plays for minus three yards and four plays for 27 yards.
In fact, Holbrook’s longest drive was 52 yards in 15 plays but it ended just before halftime with the Horns recovering a fumble.
In the game, the Horn defense held Holbrook to 72 yards rushing and a paltry 46 yards passing.
Meanwhile, the PHS offense cranked out 282 yards on the ground averaging 8-plus yards per play.
In other first round state games, Round Valley beat Chino Valley 38-7, Wickenburg thumped Coolidge, 28-7, Fountains Hills edged defending state champion Show Low 20-17, Winslow outscored Window Rock 68-28, Estrella Foothills was a touchdown better, 14-7, than Empire and Blue Ridge pounded Santa Cruz, 40-0.
In addition to Payson’s second-round game against Snowflake, Round Valley takes on Wickenburg. That game is set for 4 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 15.
At Williams Field High School also on Nov. 15, Fountain Hills plays Winslow at 4 p.m. and Estrella Foothills takes on Blue Ridge at 7 p.m.
The winners advance to the final four to be contested Nov. 22 at Paradise Valley High School.