Longhorn defensive coordinator Kenny Hayes and his David Carlen-led bandits face a daunting challenge this evening, Oct. 10, trying to shoot down the Round Valley aerial circus fueled by quarterback Hayden Eagar.
Few in Arizona have any doubts about Eagar’s gun-slinging gridiron talents, especially those who watched in awe as the strong-armed senior threw for more than 500 yards in the Elks’ 2007 state tournament semifinal loss to Coolidge.
Eagar owns the 3A East passing record of over 3,300 yards and will probably break that mark this season.
He’s also being recruited by D1 schools and has been invited to participate in quarterback camps around the country.
So, the big question is, how does the Payson “D” hold down Eagar and his bevy of talented receivers long enough to come away with a win and improve to 7-0?
Probably the best way is to keep the Elk offense off the field with ball control that methodically grinds out yardage and first downs and uses up the clock.
But at some point in the game, Carlen and his gang are going to have to put the kinks in an offense that throws the ball more than it runs, sometimes as many as 45 times a game.
An often-used approach against the spread offense like the Elks employ, is to call the “D” based on down, distance and where the ball is on the field.
The defense changes as the field becomes shorter, the time left on the clock winds away and the score.
Among the defenses are a basic cover 2 when it’s almost certain the opponent will pass and a boundary cover 4 when the score is close, the ball is on the minus side of field and there is plenty of time on the clock.
Many defensive coordinators love to blitz in this look, usually to the opposite side of where the running back is aligned.
Of course, there is always man-to-man coverage if the defensive backs are speedy, physical and athletic.
Whatever Hayes decides to do tonight, you can bet the family farm he will try to disguise as many coverages, stunts and blitzes as possible.
“There are a couple of ways to stop Round Valley’s passing attack,” he said. “You must make the quarterback uncomfortable in the pocket and if you don’t believe you can do that with your down linemen, then blitzing is necessary.”
Hayes says he also will drop as many defenders as possible into pass coverage and hope they defend well enough for the front three or four to get pressure on Eagar.
That means the Horns dynamic duo of Matt Wilson (6 feet, 6 inches, 265 pounds) and Bryan Burke (6 feet, 4 inches, 227 pounds) must put heat on Eagar and not let him set up in either his five- or seven-step drop.
Although noseguard Ryan Schatz is not big (5 feet, 8 inches, 148 pounds) he more than makes up for his lack of bulk in tenacity.
He has 19 tackles and a fumble recovery and could be a key to putting pressure on Eagar.
If Hayes decides to blitz, it could be Carlen, at Mike linebacker or weakside backer Tyler Savage called upon to chase down the RV signal caller.
Carlen is the East Region’s leading tackler with 61. He also has two sacks. Savage has 59 tackles, two sacks and a fumble recovery.
Among the defensive backs who will be asked to contain RV’s talented corps of receivers is safety Ridge Halenar.
Although he is probably best known for his accomplishments at quarterback, Halenar is one of the top defenders in the East Region.
Other standouts for Payson are Max Johnson, Nick Johnson and Shane Keith.
Finally, Hayes points to containing the Elks’ big play capabilities as a key to defensive success.
“We have to keep the plays in front of us, that is a must this week,” he said.
Kickoff this evening is at 7 p.m.