A season-opening 4-3 win over archrival Show Low has Payson High School soccer coach Chad Gower riding an enthusiastic high that might only be matched by that shown by Mia Hamm when the United States won the Women's World Cup.
"I'm excited about this year's team, we have so many weapons up front and a good, solid defense," he said. "This group of boys work together better than any of my previous teams and I hope that will give us a boost over other (opponents)."
In whipping the homestanding Cougars Sept. 3, Payson's offense set the stage early by hammering the Show Low defense, Gower said.
In the fourth minute of play, Dakoda Wholly lit up the scoreboard on a corner kick to give the Horns a 1-0 lead.
The often ferocious felines purred right back with a goal of their own in the 14th minute.
About 13 minutes later, Shane Crisp lifted Payson to a 2-1 lead thanks to an assist from Brandon Moratti.
"Brandon cleared the ball from our defensive zone to Shane who dribbled the ball down the sideline before cutting and shooting to score," Gower said.
At halftime, Payson led 2-1. In the 15th minute, of the second half, an assist from Wholly to Jerry Renteria gave the Horns a 3-1 cushion.
Show Low later pulled to within 3-2.
Payson closed out team scoring in the 36th minute when Crisp cut in to the backside of the goal to score off a corner kick from Renteria. In the 42nd minute, Show Low closed Payson's winning margin to a single goal on a penalty kick.
Following the hard-fought win, Gower cited freshman goalie Keith Williams as being "solid and having several amazing saves that definitely saved the game for us."
Next up for the Longhorns is a visit tomorrow, Sept. 10, to St. Johns where the two rivals will meet in the first region showdown of the season.
On Sept. 12 and 13, Payson returns to the White Mountains for the Show Low Invitational.