Horns, Blue Ridge For All The Marbles

State 3A title game pits East Region rivals for the second time this season, tough battle expected

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Andy Towle/Roundup

Longhorn Coach Josh Anderson

One thing is certain about the outcome of the 3A state football championship game...

The “Gold Ball” trophy will remain in the East region.

Other than that, everything is up for grabs when the Payson Longhorns and the Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets clash at 5:08 p.m. Nov. 29 in Walkup Skydome on the campus of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.

Although Payson defeated the Yellow Jackets 13-7 in the regular season, no one in their right gridiron mind is predicting the Horns will have an easy go of it the second time around.

Fans and boosters of both schools understand the Yellow Jackets boast a tradition rich-program under 55-year-old coach Paul Moro, and Blue Ridge seldom stumbles when the stakes are huge.

But this year, for one of the few times in the history of the rivalry between the two schools, it’s obvious Longhorn players are bigger and more powerful than their Yellow Jacket counterparts.

Conversely, some are giving the edge in speed to the Jackets. The Horns proved, however, in their 28-7 semifinal win over Wickenburg, they are not only big, they are also fast.

But maybe speed is not the correct terminology in comparing the two teams. Rather it should be quickness — whichever team is the quickest the first three yards off the line of scrimmage will have the advantage.

In the Payson players’ favor, they are practicing a bit easier and focusing only on a victory because the regular season victory erased the mystique Blue Ridge once held.

To a player, they feel they have the ability to manhandle the Yellow Jackets, and many say they are looking forward to the opportunity.

But the Yellow Jackets won’t be intimidated playing in the big show — being there is old hat.

Blue Ridge has won 13 state football championships, compared to Payson’s two, and is 240-29 over the past 22 seasons, including a state-record 63 consecutive victories.

Payson fans will argue the past is not significant — rather it is the future that is important, and the Longhorns are building a solid program under third-year coach Josh Anderson and his staff.

In Lakeside, however, Moro cites his line coach, Bob London, as the best in Arizona and says assistant Gary Williams is also among the finest.

Also, attrition is not a problem in Lakeside. It is in Payson where football coaches seem to be living in a revolving door.

Moro has been head coach since 1984, Williams has been in the program for 25 years and London for 15 years.

Dain Thompson has been assistant head coach 10 years.

Also, both Williams and London starred at Blue Ridge in the 1970s under former coach Joe Girardi.

In fact, the only two on the Jacket staff who didn’t once attend BRHS are Jim Rice and Moro.

At Payson High, there have been nine head football coaches and a long parade of assistants in the past 20 years.

So, give the edge in tradition and stability to the Yellow Jackets.

In Payson, however, PHS senior Matt Wilson believes there are some intangibles that can overcome any so-called BR advantage.

“Great leadership and team chemistry,” he said. “We have all played together for such a long time…we have been through it all, so it’s easier.”

Senior teammate Tyler Savage argues that “hard work and dedication in the off-season and being very disciplined” give the Horns the keys to success.

Blue Ridge’s success this year was a bit unexpected because the team graduated last spring the nucleus of a talent-laden 2007 team.

Many of the BR players are first-year varsity starters.

Payson, however, was projected to be a state power mostly because of its state quarterfinal showing last year and the presence of one of the most talented senior classes in school history.

No matter what has fueled both Blue Ridge (12-1) and Payson (13-0) this year, the fact of the matter is the two finest 3A teams in Arizona will slug it out Saturday for the right to be called the state’s best.

Only one will be left standing.

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