Most of today’s football fans finger the Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets as the rival who once owned a voodoo-like gridiron curse over the Longhorns.
Older boosters, however, remember it was the Snowflake Lobos who cast a 28-year evil spell over Payson.
During that stretch, Payson beat the Lobos just three times — in 1999, 2005 and 2007.
And only one of those wins, 2005, was on Snowflake turf.
From 1980 until 1999 Payson was always on the losing end of the final score, and the mood in Payson wasn’t “Beat Blue Ridge” rather it was “Beat Snowflake.”
After all, the Horns had whipped Blue Ridge in 1981 and 1998, but had never beaten Snowflake.
Also, the losing streak vs. the Lobos represented 19 long seasons of heartbreak and misfortune for Horn faithful.
During that stretch, frustrated fans wondered both quietly and publicly if the Longhorns could ever break the hex the tradition-rich Lobos — state championship contenders almost every season — held on the Horns.
Sports fans old enough to remember the iconic Charles Atlas print ads and comics in which the protagonist “Mac” is accosted on the beach, in front of his girlfriend, by a sand-kicking bully, could easily equate Payson to Mac and Snowflake to the well-built bully.
Humiliated, Mac goes home and orders Charles Atlas’ “Dynamic Tension” workout program.
Later, the now-muscled Mac returns to the beach and beats up the bully to win his girlfriend back.
Payson’s chance to finally beat up the bully came in the fall of 1999 when the Kyle Conway-led Longhorns ended Snowflake’s domination with a pulsating 26-23 victory.
With the Horns set to battle the Lobos this evening, Oct. 31, in Snowflake, let’s travel nine years back to remember just how sweet that historical first triumph went down.
The nail-biting scenario began to unfold with 1:36 remaining in the game when Lobo Josh Jacobson scored on a 5-yard aerial from Snowflake’s red-hot quarterback, Jeff Reidhead.
The TD erased Payson’s precarious 20-17 lead and had Payson fans saying “Oh no, not again.”
On the ensuing kickoff, with the clock running down, Payson took control of the ball on its own 35-yard line.
With Conway, then a senior, calmly at the controls, the Horns began their game-winning march mixing short passes and running plays.
The well-executed drive took the Horns quickly to the Lobo 5-yard line where Payson faced a crucial fourth and goal situation with three seconds remaining.
With fans on both sides hootin’ and hollerin’ as if they were clutching winning lottery tickets, Snowflake called for a time out.
During the break, the Horn coaching staff opted to kick a game-tying field goal, which if successful, would have forced forced the game into overtime.
But, then-Horn coach Jim Beall, now at Higley High School, later scrapped the plan and opted instead to attempt a play action pass. The dubious gamble paid huge dividends when Conway, after faking a dive, uncorked a perfectly thrown spiral to wide receiver Dusty Brockett who was running a curl route in the end zone.
Brockett’s clutch catch lifted the Horns to victory and signaled an end to the long misery Payson had suffered at the paws of the Lobos.
The huge Snowflake contingent, who had shown up obviously convinced their beloved Lobos would again be kicking sand in the face of Horns, could only stand and watch in disbelief as Payson fans swarmed the field to celebrate and congratulate the victorious Longhorns.
The scene was almost identical to two weeks ago when fans stormed that same field to salute the Horn players on their 13-7 win over Blue Ridge.
The most animated among the celebrants at the 1999 victory were members of the PHS soccer team. Many were shirtless, twirling their garb over their heads, much like a U.S. women’s player had done while celebrating victory in the World Cup.
While that win might have been the most memorable victory in Longhorn football history, there were plenty of disappointments in the Lobos vs. Longhorns’ clashes.
One of the most disappointing losses occurred in 1984 when the Terry Nodlinski-coached Horns took a 6-0 lead over Snowflake into the fourth quarter.
But in the course of six minutes and 29 seconds, the Lobos scored four touchdowns to win 27-6.
One year earlier, Payson outplayed the Lobos behind Mark Sylvester’s 98 yards rushing, but lost 17-2.
In 1986, a very good Longhorn team advanced to the state championship, where Payson dropped a gut-wrenching 7-0 decision to the Lobos.
Some players off that team, including Ty Chilson, Ty Goodman and Mark Velaso, continue to remember the loss as the toughest they endured during their football careers.
One year later, Payson took to Snowflake probably one of the top-three teams in the history of the school, but lost 19-7, mostly because of several crucial errors and penalties.
No one remembers that loss better than Greg Alexander, who now has a son, Brandon, on the Longhorn football squad. As a two-way starter on the 1986 and 1987 teams, Greg — a legitimate tough guy — suffered through three losses to Snowflake in less than two seasons.
In 1991, the Longhorns had the defending state champion and 3A top-ranked Lobos — coached by Beall, who later became the PHS head coach — on the ropes before losing 9-6.
David Daniels scored in the third quarter on a 25-yard bootleg run to give the Horns a 6-3 lead.
Late in the fourth quarter, after defensive coordinator Don Heizer’s defenders — led by Bo Althoff — had stalled Beall’s power option offense all evening long, Snowflake fullback Chance Green bulled into the end zone for the winning points.
Payson had one last gasp at salvaging a win, but the clock ran out with the Horns threatening to score.
Although Payson fielded an undefeated state championship team in 1998, the Horns did not meet the Lobos because PHS was aligned in the Central Region and Snowflake was in the East.
Following Payson wins in 1999, Conway predicted the long and dreaded hex Snowflake held over Payson was at an end.
But Conway was wrong — in the six years after the upset, the Horns failed to again beat the Lobos.
In 2005, the Horns — coached by Jerry Rhoades — etched their name in the gridiron record books by becoming the first Payson High School varsity football team to win in Snowflake.
With B.J. Hill at starting quarterback, the Horns unleashed a rock ’em, sock ’em ground attack led by speedster Luke Apfel, who finished with 186 yards on 26 carries.
The Horn defense, anchored by Kevin Allen, Don Engler and Cash and Steele Armstrong, held Snowflake to a miniscule 14 yards rushing.
In 2006, the Snowflake vs. Payson clash turned into another sordid case of Lobo sand kicking.
Although Payson built a 15-0 halftime lead and was ahead 21-8 in the fourth quarter, the Lobos came roaring back to win 22-21 on Devon Peterson’s last-second, two-point conversion run.
In 2007, the Longhorns finally had their way with the outmanned Lobos cruising to a 49-19 win.
Tonight in Snowflake, the Horns (9-0 overall, 4-0 in the East) have as much at stake as any team in the state. With a victory, the Horns will remain unbeaten, win the East Region championship outright and take the No. 1 seed into the 3A state tournament. A win would stop the bully in his tracks and wipe away memories of all that sand.
Kick off in Snowflake is at 7 p.m.