Against Round Valley two weeks ago, Longhorn football fans geared up for an aerial circus much like the Air Coryell offensive attack that San Diego quarterback Don Fouts pulled the trigger on in the 1980s.
But tonight, Oct. 24, in Longhorn stadium against Alchesay, PHS fans and boosters will see a throwback ground-oriented offense that has its origins decades ago when helmets were leather and face masks were only for welders.
Most of the season coach Brandon Nebcomb’s Falcons have run a “three yards and a cloud of dust” double tight end, double wing offense in which the linemen take almost no splits and the only back is fullback Frank Larzelere. He will be lined up only a few feet behind quarterback Harold Quintero.
Longhorn defensive coordinator Kenny Hayes says the Falcons have also shown an I formation with a full backfield.
When it comes to throwing, the Falcons say forget it. They’ve thrown only 14 passes all season long completing six for 82 yards.
That type of dedication to the ground game would have tickled legendary coach Woody Hayes, who once said, “There are three things that can happen when you pass and two of them ain’t good.”
The ground-pounding offense has been enough to get the Falcons out to a 4-0 start, scoring big numbers especially in a 50-48 win over Holbrook and a 58-6 victory against Ganado.
That streak, however, has ended and the Falcons are now 4-4 with three of those losses to East rivals Blue Ridge (49-12), Snowflake (32-8) and Round Valley (48-22).
Alchesay is not expected to change its offensive attack against Payson, which means senior wingback Stephone Hanna will spend most of his evening lugging the pigskin against the Horns’ front four.
Hanna is the region’s top rusher with 1,262 yards. Larzelere is also a capable runner, but spends most of his time plowing through the defense using his 200 pounds to clear the way for Hanna. As good as Hanna and Larzelere have been for Alchesay, it is the Falcons’ veteran offensive line that has buoyed the team.
Also, if there is a constant in tonight’s gridiron equation it is that the Falcons will be out to hang on to their hard-earned 12th place spot in the power point rankings and the state tournament seed that goes along with it.
Last year, Alchesay suffered a “Love Story”-sized heartbreak when the team missed out on the playoffs by a few power points. Had the Falcons reversed two losses — one to Holbrook by two points and the other to Estrella Foothills by six — they would have been celebrating a playoff berth.
Playing Payson, which has eight victories, will bring the Falcons a good number of power points. An upset would give them even more.
Play with passion
Every coach, player and fan in America understands that one of the obstacles Longhorn players must overcome this evening is avoiding a letdown following last week’s highly emotional 13-7 victory over Blue Ridge.
It might be tough for the players to reach the fever pitch they had against the Yellow Jackets, but their goal should be to get as close as possible.
Leading the Longhorn charge this evening will be two-way starter and three-year letter winner Ridge Halenar.
As the team’s signal caller, he has thrown for 689 yards and rushed for 326. Through the airways he has been intercepted only once in 77 attempts.
As a safety on defense, he has 34 tackles, 24 of which are unassisted.
David Carlen is also a two-way starter holding down fullback and middle linebacker positions.
He is the Horns’ leading defender with 83 tackles, and with 723 yards on the ground, he is also the team’s top rusher.
Halenar and Carlen have proved their worth all season long, but there are plenty of other workhorses in the Longhorn corral.
Tyler Savage is second on the team in tackles with 81 and is Halenar’s favorite receiver with 19 catches for 306 years.
Junior tailback Brandon Alexander has run for 500 yards, and diminutive sophomore Payson Herring has used his speed and elusiveness to pick up 444. It was Herring who scored one of the Horns’ touchdowns in the victory over Blue Ridge.
Defensively, Ryan Schatz, Bryan Burke and Matt Wilson lead Payson’s intimidating sack attack. Schatz has six, Burke five and Wilson three.
Wilson also has 51 tackles to his credit and Burke has 37.
The two hold down opposite end slots on Payson’s four-man defensive front.
Hayes’ bandits feature other capable defenders including Nick Johnson, Max Johnson, Shane Keith and Westin Gibson.
Game time this evening is 7 p.m.