In Lobo land fans are grumbling, “Oh no, not Payson again.”
The boosters’ tetchy moans are because Snowflake must take on a Payson football team that only two weeks ago manhandled their beloved Lobos 52-15.
In that gridiron slaughter, Snowflake had the home field advantage, which the team won’t have, when it again meets Payson at 7 p.m. tomorrow, Nov. 15, at Mesa High School.
That clash is a 3A state tournament quarterfinal game in which the survivor
moves on to the final four to be played Nov. 22 at Paradise Valley High School.
Snowflake and Payson, longtime East rivals, are meeting in the second round of the 16-team tournament because both were aligned in the same bracket based on the power points accumulated during the regular season.
Payson took the No. 1 seed into the tournament and defeated No. 16 Holbrook, 62-0, in the first round.
Snowflake received a No. 9 seed and traveled to Safford, where the Lobos upset the No. 8 Bulldogs, 34-21.
In the elite eight bracket, four of the teams are from the rough and tumble East Region where football reigns supreme.
The East qualified five teams for the postseason, but defending state champion Show Low was eliminated in the first round, 20-17, by Fountain Hills.
Rough, tough Horns
Snowflake’s hesitancy to face Payson so soon after suffering through a 37-point shellacking is understandable.
After all, about the only time the Lobos were in contention during the Oct. 31 blowout was in the first quarter when the score was tied 7-7.
Payson then went on a scoring rampage that erased any doubt which was the superior team.
The Horn onslaught included 60- and 39-yard touchdown runs by sophomore Payson Herring who might not be available tomorrow because of a knee injury he incurred in the practice week leading up to the Holbrook game.
Although the elusive speedster has been a big part of the Horn offense, there’s a stable of other good running backs backs in the PHS corral including Brandon Alexander, Nick Goodman, David Carlen and Cliff Lopez.
But when fans talk about the Horns, the first thing usually mentioned is the size of those in the trenches.
Payson has the biggest offensive line in school history with 6-foot-6-inch, 265-pound Matt Wilson and 6-foot-4-inch, 227-pound Bryan Burke anchoring it.
Also on the line are Mason Dacanay (5 feet, 10 inches, 297 pounds), Logan Garner (5 feet, 9 inches, 232 pounds), and Schaffer Keith (6 feet, 1 inch, 284 pounds).
When those colossals go on the defensive, Ryan Schatz (5 feet, 8 inches, 148 pounds) is subbed in to take a spot on the line of scrimmage.
Although he is diminutive in comparison to his fellow linemen, he is a tough nut to crack as evidenced by his six sacks that tie him with Burke for the East Region lead.
Also defensively, the Horns will send against Snowflake the one-two linebacker punch of crunch brothers David Carlen and Tyler Savage. Carlen is second in the region in tackles with 138 and Savage ranks third with 110. Also, Savage’s four interceptions ranks him among the East leaders and his 25 pass receptions for 253 yards is a team-best mark.
Against Snowflake, the responsibility of Schatz, Carlen and Savage will be to slow Lobo quarterback Jordan Hunt who has thrown this season for 1,163 yards. The Horn “D” also must contain senior running back Matt Reidhead. With 1,438 yards rushing, he ranks second in the East.
In the Oct. 31 Payson vs. Snowflake skirmish, one of the few Lobo highlights was Reidhead’s fourth quarter, 83-yard kick off return for a touchdown.
Which is better?
With the state tournament championship game just around the corner, conversation among many Longhorn fans centers on comparing the current team to the 1998 squad that went undefeated and beat Blue Ridge in championship finale.
Most agree it’s tough to compare two teams from different eras.
But, the ’98 squad might have the edge in depth mostly because it featured back-to-back classes loaded with athletic talent and cohesiveness.
Cable Morris, Hunter Walden, Marc Bennett, Josh Barnhart and others led the senior class. The group had played together since eighth-grade, the first year Rim Country Middle School fielded a football team.
From the juniors, a group that had also played together since eighth-grade, Cade Bradley, Bryan Zumbro, Jimbo Armstrong and Justin Kaufmann were among the stalwarts.
In fact, the team was so deep, then-coach Jim Beall regularly used 22 starters, which is a rarity in 3A football.
The depth of the team paid huge dividends in the state championship when, late in the game, the Longhorns were able to wear down the obviously weary Yellow Jackets.
While the current team doesn’t appear to have the overall roster depth of seasoned, veteran players that the ’98 team did, it does feature some quality athletes who could start on any prep team in the state regardless of school size classification.
This team also has the advantage of having survived a very challenging sophomore season during which the players took a beating emotionally and physically, but refused to throw in the towel.
Their situation is best summed up by Friedrich Nietzsche who said, “that which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”
If Nietzsche is correct, the seniors have the credentials to be Herculean.