A 36-19 state quarterfinal win over the Snowflake Lobos has lifted the Payson Longhorns (12-0) into the 3A final four against the only other unbeaten team in the state, the Wickenburg Wranglers.
That game will be played at 7 p.m. Nov. 22 at Paradise Valley High School.
While much of the focus of the Horns’ triumph against Snowflake should be on advancing in the tournament, it unfortunately is being directed at what some are calling questionable officiating.
Head coach Josh Anderson and his staff are prohibited from publicly criticizing the officiating crew, which was from Sierra Vista, but fans are up in arms about the 11 flags thrown against the Horns.
Rendering the 99-yard penalty situation against PHS even more puzzling was the fact that one official, the head linesman stationed on the Snowflake sidelines, threw nine of the flags.
Also on one of Snowflake’s touchdowns, it appeared to some that the Lobo ball carrier had been stopped short of the goal line.
There are Payson faithful labeling the score a “phantom touchdown.”
The penalties Payson was ticketed for resulted in four Lobo first downs and eventually contributed to Snowflake scores.
Anderson would only say about the officiating, “I’m not pleased with all our penalties, but if you take away one guy, we only had four penalties.”
No matter what the controversy, the gridiron bottom line is that the Longhorns must do everything possible to avoid penalties in the next two games if they want to have their dreams of a state championship realized.
Getting fired up
Entering the game against Snowflake, one challenge was getting properly motivated to play against a team the Longhorns had trampled 52-15 only a few weeks ago.
While the Horns didn’t win the second clash by the same 37-point margin they had in the first meeting, Payson built a 36-7 lead and then called off the canines.
“Our varsity took care of the game with a score of 36-7, the rest was scored on my reserves,” Anderson said. “Playing Snowflake again may have been an issue for some, but it was never an issue to keep the concentration up with our boys.”
Snowflake’s game plan entering the crucial clash appears to have been to discard the aerial game that had been so successful in the regular season in favor of a ground attack.
“I thought that was very smart,” Anderson said. “It killed the game clock and kept the ball out of our high-scoring offense’s hands.”
Using the ball-control scheme to perfection, the Lobos had possession of the pigskinpigskin for 29:12 compared to Payson’s 18:48.
The Horns, however, churned out 387 yards of total offense, 334 coming on the ground. Snowflake rushed for 177 yards and passed for just 20.
Horns take 21-point
Payson got on the scoreboard with 6:49 remaining in the first quarter on quarterback Ridge Halenar’s one-yard TD plunge. The score capped a nicely executed eight-play, 49-yard drive. The touchdown, coupled with Josh Frewin’s conversion kick, gave the Horns a 7-0 lead.
About three minutes later, junior tailback Brandon Alexander’s 45-yard TD gallop and Frewin’s boot moved the cushion to 14-0.
The touchdown was the first of three Alexander would score during a game in which he rushed for 210 yards on 13 carries.
Alexander’s other scores came on runs of 36 and 34 yards.
Payson upped the lead to 21-0 with 4:30 to go in the first half on an 18-yard TD pass from Halenar to sophomore Westin Gibson and a successful point after kick.
The Lobos didn’t light up the scoreboard until midway through the third quarter when Matt Reidhead scooted into the end zone from three yards out.
Trailing by 29 points late in the fourth quarter, resilient Snowflake made the final tally a bit more respectable on a TD pass from Jordan Hunt to Robbie Martindell and Reidhead’s 10-yard run to pay dirt with no time left on the clock.
Following the win, Anderson lauded the Lobos saying, “There are a lot of teams and athletes that deserve our respect and Snowflake and Matt Reidhead got all of our attention.”
He also praised fullback/linebacker David Carlen, Alexander and Halenar.
“They all had outstanding offensive games,” he said. “They complement each other very well because it’s tough to tackle just one of them, but having to key on all three makes times tough for any defense.”
In the other state semifinal bracket, Blue Ridge — with a 46-7 victory over Estrella Foothills — will play No. 3 seed Fountain Hills. The Falcons earned a final-four berth by beating Winslow 43-27. The Falcons vs. Yellow Jacket game will be played at 4 p.m. Nov. 22, also at Paradise Valley High School.
The championship game is set for 5:07 p.m. in the Walkup Skydome on the campus of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.