What was expected to be a heated junk yard dog fight turned into a one-sided ambush when the Payson Longhorns met the pass-happy Round Valley Elks Oct. 10 in PHS stadium.
In the much-anticipated East Region skirmish, the Horns ran roughshod, 51-14, over the Elks by holding RV’s vaunted air game to 220 yards.
While that might seem to be a good chunk of yardage, it was a well-below-average mark for the Elk aerial circus led by strong-armed quarterback Hayden Eagar.
“Our philosophy going in was to keep everything in front of us and we did a good job of that,” defensive coordinator Kenny Hayes said. “We didn’t want to give up the big plays — we wanted to let them make the mistakes.
“When you throw as many times as they do, there’s bound to be some mistakes.”
Which there was — the Elks lost three fumbles, had one pass intercepted and several long drives ended with punts.
“We had a great game plan going in to shut them down the way we did,” head coach Josh Anderson said. “We also completely shut them down because of the athletes we have.”
The Horns’ impressive victory — which thrilled an overflow crowd — improves the Horns’ record to 7-0 overall and 2-0 in the East.
Also on Friday evening, the Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets (7-0, 2-0) swarmed over Show Low 49-0 setting up a for-all-the marbles Oct. 17 showdown pitting the Horns against the Jackets. The winner will take over the region lead and have the inside track to the East championship.
The win over RV does keep the Horns atop the Arizona Interscholastic Association power point rankings, which are used to seed teams into the state tournament. Blue Ridge is ranked second in 3A power points.
Of course if Payson were to fall to BR on Friday, the Horns would drop out of the top spot.
Alexander sets the pace
In Friday’s clash between RV and Payson, the Horns jumped out to an early 14-0 lead on touchdown runs by junior tailback Brandon Alexander who scored on 30-yard and 3-yard TD scampers.
Payson led 17-0 with 7:18 in the first half on Josh Frewin’s 25-yard field goal.
Round Valley, however, was not to be denied and stormed back to score on a five-play 77-yard drive. The TD and the ensuing ensuing conversion kicked pulled the Elks to within 17-7.
About three minutes later, the Horns answered on quarterback Ridge Halenar’s 46-yard scoring run that pushed the halftime count to 24-7.
With 8:13 remaining in the third stanza, Halenar scored again following fullback David Carlen into the end zone. Minutes earlier, Carlen had been churning out big chunks of yardage between the tackles. The TD and Frewin’s PAT kick gave PHS a 31-7 lead. The scoring drive was kept alive on several penalties including unsportsmanlike conduct.
The Horns later rolled the tally to 37-7 and 45-7. The second TD was scored on Nick Goodman’s 20-yard TD run.
The PHS rally took its toll on the Elks’ psyche, who had a player ejected from the game on unsportsmanlike like conduct.
At the onset of the fourth quarter, coach Anderson emptied his bench playing reserves. Sophomore Westin Gibson, who had seen considerable action on special teams and defense, took over at quarterback.
Sophomore Clint Godac, who’s listed on the roster as a junior varsity lineman, scored the Horns’ final TD on a 1-yard plunge.
“Offensively they could not stop us,” Anderson said. “This is the best I’ve seen our linemen get off the ball and maintain blocks.”
The coach also cited the backfield for doing “an outstanding job of hitting holes hard, juking defenders and running them over when necessary.”
Individually, Alexander turned in the finest game of his career rushing 14 times for 141 yards and three touchdowns.
Great things have been predicted for Alexander since his freshman year injuries seemed to slow his progress. The RV clash will probably go down as his breakout game.
As good as he was, Alexander wasn’t the only star in a gridiron spectacular highlighted by a whopping 502 yards in total offense, 470 which came on the ground. Senior fullback David Carlen got the call 15 times and responded with 118 yards.
Halenar rushed for 110 yards on eight carries.
The trio, and the linemen who cleared the way, put on the finest rushing extravaganza seen in Longhorn stadium since the days Tom Fruth was toting the Payson pigskin.
Because the ground game was so efficient, Halenar only went to the airways on seven occasions, completing two for 32 yards.
Defensively, Nick Goodman, Bryan Burke and Matt Wilson put the heat on Eagar all evening. Each was credited with a sack and Wilson recovered a fumble.
Noseguard Ryan Schatz battled being double-teamed most of the evening, but managed to continually harass Eagar — on one occasion breaking into the RV backfield causing a fumble.
Tyler Savage led the team in tackles with seven and intercepted a pass with 31 seconds remaining in the first quarter that put the clamps on RV’s 11-play 40-yard drive.
Cody York, Nick Johnson and Carlen each had five tackles.
If there was a concern coming out of the game that coach Anderson and his staff will want to correct before Blue Ridge arrives in Payson, it’s penalties.
The Horns were flagged 13 times for 119 yards. A similar mark against a team like Blue Ridge would be a tough obstacle for the Horns to overcome.
Kickoff against BR is 7 p.m. at the Payson field