Payson’s hard-fought 13-7 win over the Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets could eventually produce the scheduling advantage the Horns need to earn the school’s first state football championship since 1998.
Let’s see how that works.
It began earlier this week with the Horns taking over sole possession of first place in the AIA power point rankings.
Which means, the Longhorns — if they win their final two regular-season games — would have a tremendous scheduling-plus in the state tournament when it kicks off Nov. 8.
With the first seed, the Horns (8-0, 3-0) will open against the lowly No. 16 qualifier, which, at the moment, is a 4-4 Monument Valley team.
Monument Valley plays in the weak North Region and would probably not be very competitive against the hardened Longhorns who compete in the East — the toughest region in the state.
Also the Horns will have the home-field advantage in the first round.
With a win over the No. 16 seed, PHS would advance to the quarterfinal round, Nov. 15 at Mesa High School, and play the winner of a first round game pitting No. 8 against No. 9.
That team would probably be Winslow or Window Rock — both from the North Region.
The Horns already own a victory over Winslow having beaten the Bulldogs 49-21 on Sept. 5.
If the Horns win that game, they would advance Nov. 22 to the semifinals at Paradise Valley High School.
And guess who the opponent would probably be? Round Valley, a team the Horns dominated 51-14 on Oct. 10.
The bottom line is that the Longhorns, with the one-seed, will be highly favored in the first three rounds of the state tournament.
Those three wins, of course, would vault PHS into the championship showdown.
Another advantage of taking the No. 1 seed to state is that the Horns will find themselves in the topside eight-team bracket. The other highest seed in the bracket is No. 4.
Blue Ridge (7-1, 2-1), which will probably finish as a No. 2 seed, would be in the lower eight-team bracket.
In that bracket with the Yellow Jackets is unbeaten Wickenburg (8-0) of the West Region.
Although Blue Ridge is probably the better team, a Wrangler vs. Jackets clash would be a fierce battle of junk yard dogs.
With the state bracket alignment as it stands this week, Payson and Blue Ridge — arguably the two finest teams in 3A — would not meet until the championship finale when it is played Nov. 29 in Walkup Skydome on the campus of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff.
So, while Friday’s win over Blue Ridge was a tremendous victory for Payson, it could mean even greater things down the gridiron highway.