Taking control of the line of scrimmage, much like Alexander the Great ruled the Persian Empire, the Longhorns' defensive front four paved the way to Payson's 26-0 season-opening victory over Fountain Hills.
"Our linemen did a great job and it allowed our linebackers to run free all game," defensive coordinator Kenny Hayes said of the game played Aug. 29 in Fountain Hills.
As evidence the backers roamed at will, Hayes pointed to middle linebacker David Carlen who led the team in tackles with 14.
The D-line starters include Bryan Burke, Matt Wilson, Mason Dacanay and Schaffer Keith.
Due to the almost 100-degree searing desert heat and the high humidity, Hayes rotated Ryan Schatz and Logan Garner into the mix to keep the linemen fresh.
"It was so humid, it was hard to breathe," Hayes said.
For Shane Keith, a backup quarterback, slotback and defensive back, the key to overcoming the heat was fluids.
"I hydrated myself with lots of water and Gatorade and that helped a lot," he said. "But it was still very hot."
Paced by the line, the rock-solid defense held Fountain Hills to115 yards of total offense and nine first downs, four of which came on a final drive after Hayes had emptied his bench putting reserves into the game.
Five of the Falcons' so-called drives ended with three-and-outs and another two were stopped by interceptions.
"I think defensively it was one of our better games," Keith said. "They didn't do anything we didn't expect, we read our keys and were disciplined."
Head coach Josh Anderson was among those impressed by the defensive effort.
"We just looked dominant with our boys putting the hammer down and swarming to the ball on every play," he said. "We are reading the offense a lot better this year and that is exciting this early in the season. Our tackling was outstanding and I expect things to only get better each week."
Offensively, Payson wasted little time in lighting up the scoreboard scoring on the second play of the game on a one-yard run by sophomore tailback Cliff Lopez.
The score was set up by 70-yard run up the middle by Nick Goodman.
"It was a trap play and it was wide open," he said. "I didn't get touched (near the line of scrimmage)."
The senior fullback finished the game as the Horns' leading rusher with 89 yards in nine carries.
Josh Frewin booted the extra point to give the Longhorns a 7-0 lead they would never relinquish.
The Horns scored again at 3:51 in the first quarter when quarterback Ridge Halenar hooked up with wideout Tyler Savage on a 51-yard scoring strike. The play capped a six-play, 80-yard drive.
The Horn connection -- Halenar to Savage --licked again late in the second quarter on a 14-yard TD pass, which gave the Horns a 20-0 halftime cushion.
Savage, who all evening long used his height, 6-feet, 3-inches, to out-muscle defenders for the ball, finished with six catches for 121 yards. Halenar completed six of 10 passes for 85 yards and two touchdowns before leaving the game in the third quarter with severe cramping, a problem that hampered him last season.
The best hope for him and his teammates is to find a remedy that will keep him on the field going both ways.
However, if a cure can't be found, Hayes might have to rest him on defense, where he plays safety. Of course, the Valley heat could have been the villain.
Keith, a multitalented player who can hold down a variety of positions on both offense and defense, replaced Halenar at QB.
Payson's final touchdown came with 9:51 remaining in the fourth quarter when Carlen, playing fullback, bulled into the end zone from seven yards out. The score ended a six-play, 25-yard drive.
Carlen finished with 25 yards on four carries.
In the backfield, sophomore scatback Payson Herring turned in a nice evening picking up 84 yards on five carries. He also returned one punt for 47 yards.
In other East region games played Friday, Alchesay soared over Window Rock 44-24; Blue Ridge took a bite out of the Safford Bulldogs 23-7; Snowflake caged Winslow 33-8; and the Round Valley air-express flew past Coolidge 41-0. In that game, the Elks' gun-slinging quarterback Hayden Eager torched the Bear defense by completing 22 of 32 passes for a whopping 414 yards.
Next up for the Longhorns is a Winslow team that last year won the North region championship. Kickoff is 7 p.m. in PHS stadium.
The PHS jayvee and freshmen teams travel to Winslow Sept. 4. The freshmen game kicks off at 4:30 p.m. and the jayvee clash begins at 6:30 p.m.