Some high school football teams might fold up their tent when down by 20 points to a school that had won 13 state championships and more games than there are home foreclosures in Maricopa County.
But not the Payson Longhorns.
Trailing 20-0 early in the third quarter of the 3A state championship game played Nov. 29 at Northern Arizona University, the Horns rallied from the deficit to stun the Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets, 34-33, in double overtime.
In the second OT, Josh Frewin booted the winning extra point only minutes after his Yellow Jacket counterpart had missed a conversion kick that eventually proved to be the difference in the game.
Frewin’s game-winning kick sent the huge Payson contingent in Walkup Skydome into a frenzy of celebration.
On the field, players hugged one another, cheerleaders cried and coaches jumped for joy.
The last time Payson “partied like it was 1999” - to quote Prince - it was actually 1998 and the Horns had beaten Blue Ridge for the 3A state title. That win ended the Yellow Jackets' 63-game winning streak.
Yes, it took the Longhorns 10 years to win another football crown, the third in school history, but for fans, players and coaches at NAU on Saturday evening, the victory was well worth the wait.
Most amazing about the triumph is that the Longhorn players returned to the NAU field after halftime oozing with confidence and swagger despite trailing 20-0.
During pre-third quarter kick off warm ups, not a single player hung his head. Rather they shouted encouragement to one another, pounded their chests, buckled down their chin straps and went on to play with the guts and glory of true champions.
The incredible comeback was led by senior quarterback Ridge Halenar who ran for two touchdowns and passed for another. That performance was a total turn around from the first half when the Payson signal caller was sacked five times and intercepted twice.
With the win, Payson finishes the year 14-0 and East Region and state champions.
For complete coverage, see the Dec. 2 edition of The Payson Roundup.