Ding dong, the wicked witch is dead.
In this case the evil broom rider is the gridiron hex the Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets held over the Payson Longhorn for decades. Entering Friday evening’s (Oct. 17) crucial showdown between the two teams, the Horns had not beaten the Jackets in 10 years and hadn’t won in the regular season since 1981.
But that spell came to an end with the Longhorns’ pulsating 13-7 victory.
Although the game was sloppily played with both teams committing miscues and penalties, the clash will be remembered as a classic because it pitted two unbeaten teams against one another with first place in the region standings and the state power point lead on the line.
With the win, Payson moves to 8-0, 3-0 in the East. Blue Ridge falls to 7-1, 2-1.
The showdown turned into a defensive struggle with both teams pounding one another inside the 20-yards line. The Horns took a 7-0 lead with 2:43 remaining in the first half on Payson Herring’s 11-yard run. Blue Ridge later tied up the game on a 19-yard scoring pass.
With 1:26 remaining in the game, just when it looked as if overtime would be needed to settle the tie, Ridge Halenar capped an eight-play, 75-yard drive with a five yard scamper to pay dirt. Until that drive, the BR defense - led by former Payson player Steel Armstrong - had put the clamps on the Horns’ vaunted power option run game. When the ground attack stalled, Halenar went to the airways but was victimized by several dropped passes.
The Payson conversion kick following the TD failed and the Horns led 13-7.
True to the Jacket tradition, Blue Ridge refused to throw in the towel. After receiving the kick off, the Jackets marched down the field towards what might have been the game winning scores. The biggest play of the drive was a 42-yard pass.
With less than a minute remaining the Jackets had a 1st and 10 inside the 15-yard line.
But the Horn defense, led by Bryan Burke who had three sacks, rose to the occasion and put the skids on BR’s last gasp attempt.
The win sent the overflow pro-Payson crowd, including coach Josh Anderson, into a frenzy. Fans, including parents, teachers and students, spilled onto the field to congratulate the young players on their stirring victory.
One fan called it “a game for the ages.”