Although the Florence Gophers are winless, the team presents a unique challenge for the Payson Longhorns in that it boasts talented players.
"They have a bunch of good athletes and number three is a good running back," PHS defensive coordinator Kenny Hayes said.
The Gophers opened the season with a 55-0 loss to state top-ranked Wickenburg, but showed marked improvement a week later in a 28-21 loss to Estrella Foothills.
PHS head coach Josh Anderson says the task for the Longhorns this evening, Sept. 12 in Florence, is "not to look past anybody and we'll need to overcome the heat and humidity."
Dealing with those two factors will be especially crucial to quarterback Ridge Halenar who has shown a tendency to cramp when playing in the heat.
In the Horns' season-opening 26-0 win at Fountain Hills, where game time temperature was 100 degrees, Halenar had to sit out the final quarter due to the cramps.
If he does have to depart, the Horns have a solid backup signal caller in Shane Keith.
Anderson, after watching game films of Florence's first two games, believes Florence "is a lot better coached these days but don't seem to have the size to go with it.
"They do hustle to the ball, but have not shown to be very disciplined in blocking or tackling."
If Payson's power option offense is to move the ball, the players must effectively block at least three defensive fronts -- 3-4, 4-3 and a 4-4.
Although the 4-4, which can be essentially an eight-man front, is not a popular defense among Arizona coaches, it can be tough to block and run against.
If Halenar is asked to go to the airways, he'll have to throw against two zone secondaries -- cover 2 and cover 3.
"They do run a variety of defenses," Anderson said.
Eliminate the miscues
The Longhorns (2-0) steam into the non-region showdown buoyed by a defense that has shown to be intimidating, but also prone to mistakes.
In Payson's 49-21 win over Winslow, the Bulldogs capitalized on two crucial Longhorn errors to score points.
"But we made the necessary corrections before halftime," Anderson said.
Middle linebacker David Carlen and weak side backer Tyler Savage anchor the defense. Carlen is tied for first in the East Region in tackles with 25 and Savage is third with 20.
Payson also receives a superb defensive effort from nose guard Ryan Schatz who is undersized (5 feet, 8 inches, 148 pounds), but is a ferocious competitor. Schatz has two sacks this season.
Offensively, Halenar has been adept at moving the team both on the ground and through the airways.
He is fourth in the East in passing yardage with 214 yards. His favorite target is fellow senior Tyler Savage who has seven catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns.
In the win over Winslow, Cody York showed signs of joining Savage as a top-notch receiver.
Fullbacks Nick Goodman and Carlen are leading the power option ground game with 144 yards each. Goodman has picked his yardage up in 14 carries and Carlen has carried 11 times.
Other running threats are Cliff Lopez (10 carries for 50 yards), Payson Herring (9 carries for 103 yards) and Brandon Alexander (9 carries for 103 yards).
A win over Florence this evening will set the stage for a Sept. 19 PHS homecoming game against Chino Valley.
The Longhorns then travel Sept. 26 to Bradshaw Mountain to wrap up the non-region season.
All-important East Region play kicks off Oct. 3 at defending state champion Show Low.
From that game on, all that's on the agenda are East Region heavyweights.