As choreographers and actors, the Longhorns leave much to be desired. But as a football team, Payson is one of the state’s finest as evidenced by its 9-0 record and 41-8 win over the Alchesay Falcons.
The players’ lack of composition and thespian skills turned evident Oct. 24 midway through the win over the visiting Falcons.
Following a touchdown, 10 of the players circled in the end zone where senior fullback David Carlen stood cradling the football. Seconds later, he spiraled it into the air apparently aiming to have it fall in the midst of the group.
Soon after the ball was thrown, the remaining players fell backwards as if it was a grenade or bomb that had exploded.
It looked cheesy, but players say the skit was actually taken from a scene in Oliver Stone’s action-packed movie spectacle “Any Given Sunday.”
Apparently game officials Friday night didn’t see the humor in the spoof because they flagged Payson for excessive celebration and penalized the team 15 yards.
Coach Josh Anderson also expressed his displeasure after the game and the following morning during film reviews.
Around town, fans chuckled saying teenagers will be teenagers even if they represent the state’s top-ranked team in power points and No. 2 in media polls.
Ball control to Falcons
If an unknowing fan were to scan the Payson vs. Alchesay game statistics, a valid conclusion would be that the Falcons had won the 3A East regional clash.
That’s because many of the stats favored Alchesay.
The Falcons totally dominated time of possession holding the ball for 34:32 while Payson had the pigskin just 13:29.
Also the Falcons had 17 first downs to Payson’s 13. In yards rushing, which Payson almost always dominates, the Falcons trailed the Longhorns only 323 to 366.
The reason for the unusual differences in statistics is that the Horns lived large on a quick-strike offense while the ground-oriented Falcons churned out yardage and time off the clock, but few points.
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Payson scored the first three times it touched the football.
David Carlen scored the first TD with 11:28 remaining in the first quarter on a 32-yard run. The 45-yard drive took all of two plays.
Payson’s second TD lit up the board with 1:55 to go in the quarter on a nifty 95-yard run by quarterback Ridge Halenar.
The third TD came with 9:32 left in the second quarter on an 89-yard run by sophomore scat back Payson Herring.
Those three touchdown drives, which gave the Horns a 21-0 lead, consumed only four plays and just ticks on the game clock.
The Horn offense, which was clicking on all cylinders, also shined on a 65-yard TD aerial from quarterback Ridge Halenar to Westin Gibson.
The sophomore wideout also scored again, this time in the fourth quarter on a 30-yard run after he had taken over at quarterback for Halenar.
The Falcons’ only TD was scored in the fourth stanza by East Region leading rusher Stephone Hanna on a 68-yard run against PHS reserves.
Hanna was the Falcons’ lone offensive threat on the night rushing for 175 yards on a whopping 39 carries.
For the evening, the Falcons did not attempt a single pass.
Herring carried the ball only two times for Payson but managed to lead the rushing attack with 102 yards.
“We had only 26 total plays but 490 yards (in total offense),” head coach Josh Anderson said.
The coach also indicated he was pleased with the team’s overall effort, especially since it came only a week after a highly emotional 13-7 win over Blue Ridge.
“I was very happy with our guys (who) played with the same fire and intensity as they usually would,” he said.
“That shows great poise and leadership from all of them to be excited about beating Blue Ridge, but also being able to put it behind them and move on.”
Defensive coordinator Kenny Hayes faced a nightmare Saturday morning trying to compile statistics while watching game films.
Because the Falcon offense featured mostly dive, wedge and power plays into linemen who were taking miniscule splits, four and five Horn defenders were usually in on stops.
“All I could do was watch who got off the pile to see who was in on the tackle,” Hayes said.
The coordinator officially doled out 207 tackles, which in most cases, is enough for three games.
Carlen led the “D” with 30 tackles, Nick Johnson had 25, Tyler Savage contributed 18 and Shane Keith was in on 16.
“We did a great job of getting under their pads and getting to the ball carrier,” Anderson said.
With the win over Alchesay, the Longhorns improve to 9-0 overall and 4-0 in the East. The win guarantees the Longhorns at least a tie for the East Region championship with only the Snowflake Lobos left on the regular season schedule. The finale will be played Oct. 31 in Snowflake.
“This week is obviously a big one, we have a chance to win our region outright and go into the playoffs with a No. 1 seed,” Anderson said.
Even if Payson loses and Blue Ridge (8-1; 3-1) wins, the Horns would own the tiebreaker having beaten the Yellow Jackets in regular season play.
The two teams would, however, probably be declared East co-champions.
Payson also remains atop the all-important power point rankings with 70.5 points.
With 65.5, Blue Ridge is second.
Fountain Hills has 64 points and is third, Round Valley has 61.5 to hold down fourth place.
Trailing are fifth place Wickenburg (60) and Snowflake (56).
Around the 3A conference, Winslow won the North title, Wickenburg will take the West crown and Fountain Hills has the South championship in tow.