The winner of the war for control of the line of scrimmage will be toting home the gold following tonight’s (Oct. 17) crucial gridiron bout that pits two talented and unbeaten heavyweights against one another.
Blue Ridge (7-0, 2-0) and Payson (7-0, 2-0) running backs, quarterbacks and wide receivers — often mistakenly called skill positions — will receive the applause, plaudits and most headlines. But the play of the linemen will dictate the outcome, because they are the heart and soul of any good football team.
Their performances are also crucial to the outcome because there’s no position that requires more discipline or technique than lineman.
Which makes the upcoming battle between the two team’s line warriors one for the ages with Payson holding the edge in pure size and Blue Ridge possibly having the quickness advantage.
“They are by far the fastest all-around team we are going to face this year,” PHS head coach Josh Anderson said.
Anyone who has taken in a Yellow Jacket game since line coach Bob London joined the BR staff, realizes his “O” line is almost always a well-oiled and cohesive unit that has paved the way to years of success and multiple state championships.
To a player they are quick, knowledgeable and committed to performing at a high level.
While they are not always big, they are traditionally very good — usually the finest unit in the 3A conference.
Anderson says that during the coached at Chino Valley High School, he was among the many who marveled at the cohesiveness of the BR line.
In Lakeside, coach Paul Moro is lauding his linemen saying Gerald Steed, Jose Compos, Sheldon Jacks, Tyler Beus and Hayden Jones have done a fine job all season long.
As good as Blue Ridge’s linemen are, their counterparts on the Longhorn team have the potential to be better.
Among the reasons Horn linemen can be superior to BR is their sheer size advantage. Anchoring the “O” line are senior tackles Matt Wilson (6 feet, 6 inches, 265 pounds) and Bryan Burke (6 feet, 4 inches, 227 pounds.
Also on it are Mason Dacaney (5 feet, 10 inches, 297 pounds), Logan Garner (5 feet, 9 inches, 232 pounds) and Schaffer Keith (6 feet, 1 inch, 284 pounds).
The line is the largest in Payson High School history and one that would bring a smile to any junior college or D2 coach.
Holding a size advantage, however, won’t be enough to control the line of scrimmage against the Jackets.
Payson linemen must be disciplined, maintain good blocking technique and, above all, play with pride. A line that plays with pride is tough to beat.
Hustle, hit and being a good team player should be the motto of every PHS lineman when the Friday night lights click on in Longhorn stadium.
Payson on stage
Around Arizona there is no prep football game being played tonight that has more at stake than the Blue Ridge vs. Payson clash.
Both teams are undefeated, state ranked and tied for the top spot in the AIA Point Rankings.
The power points are crucial because they will be used to seed qualifiers into the state tournament at the end of the season.
Also at stake are East Region football bragging rights, which the Jackets now own because of last season’s victory.
With all that up for grabs, the eyes of football fans around the state will be focused on PHS stadium this evening.
“There is no doubt this game deserves a lot of hype, but our job as a football program is to remain focused and play under control,” Anderson said.
Blue Ridge will bring to Payson a revamped offense somewhat different than the Wing-T the team has traditionally run.
This year, the offense is more of a double wing from which speed sweeps are run by quarterback Dustin Simmons and running back Griffin Sturm. Simmons has thrown for 691 yards this season and Strum has rushed for 833 yards.
“They rely heavily on big plays and seem to get them more on run plays and special teams than anything else,” Anderson said.
The BR defense is led by Steel Armstrong who grew up in Payson with many of today’s seniors as his childhood friends.
Armstrong transferred to Blue Ridge after his freshman year at PHS. As a frosh for the Longhorns, he was an all-region first team performer.
Currently, Armstrong is the East’s leading tackler with 103 takedowns. He averages almost 15 tackles per game and has been lauded by one East coach as the finest prep linebacker he had seen in his career.
Anderson anticipates Armstrong and his fellow defenders will be focused on slowing Payson’s power option ground game.
“I expect them to be stacking the box in an effort to stop the run, so we are going to have to be more effective with our passing game,” he said.
The Horns counter the Jackets with a talented group led by Ridge Halenar, David Carlen and Tyler Savage.
Halenar is ranked fourth in the East in passing yardage with 639. Carlen, who plays fullback and middle linebacker, is fourth in rushing with 680 yards and tied for second with Savage in tackles. Both have 66. Savage is also fourth in pass receiving with 293 yards.
Payson’s arsenal also features a sack demon in noseguard Ryan Schatz. He leads the East in sacks with six. Burke has three.
In comparing the teams, Payson holds the edge in rushing, averaging 336 yards per game. Blue Ridge averages 293.
The Jackets, however, have a slight advantage in passing — 114 to 97 yards.
The Horns average 42.6 points per game and Blue Ridge averages 39.6.
Kick off this evening is 7 p.m.