Comparing scores among common opponents is not usually a valid method of evaluating football teams prior to a big game.
But almost everyone does it.
So, let’s go ahead and give it a try.
Payson (3-0) and Chino Valley (2-1), the two 3A non-region foes, who clash this evening in a PHS homecoming game in Longhorn stadium, have one common foe — Fountain Hills.
On Aug. 29 in the regular season opener in Fountain Hills, the Horns ran roughshod over the Falcons 26-0.
One week later, also in Fountain Hills, Chino Valley lost to the Falcons 20-0.
Those two comparative scores seem to render the state second-ranked Longhorns overwhelming favorites to beat CV tonight, right?
Not according to head coach Josh Anderson’s thinking.
“Chino Valley is a very tough and physically scrappy team,” he said. “They are very aggressive off the ball and they get to pile quick on defense.”
They also have in their arsenal a quarterback who has a cannon for an arm.
“He can throw the ball a country mile, but is a much better runner than he is a passer, so we need to keep him contained,” Anderson said. “He is not as elusive as the QB we saw against Winslow, but he is very quick when he gets out of the pocket.”
Cole Whisenhunt, the Chino starting quarterback who sat out during last week’s win over Tuba City, will engineer an offense somewhat similar to the Longhorns’ power option.
Leading it is talented running back Johnny Kennedy, who is ranked first in the 3A West Region with 496 yards rushing in three games. With 30 points scored, he is second in the west behind Wickenburg’s Sheldon Murphy.
“He was the co-offensive player of the year in the West last year,” PHS defensive coordinator Kenny Hayes said.
If CV has a glaring weakness offensively it is a lack of size on a line that averages only 175 pounds.
Countering Chino’s offense will be Hayes’ hard-hitting bandits led by linebackers David Carlen and Tyler Savage.
About the only time opponents have been able to score on Carlen, Savage and their teammates is when the defense commits miscues.
Hayes says the defense is committed to eliminating the mistakes, but also must step up to stop Chino’s big two of Kennedy and Whisenhunt.
“We need to contain their talented running back and their quarterback who can run and has a gun.”
The bottom line, however, is that Hayes’ 43 scheme coupled with the Longhorns’ speed, size and talent, should be more than enough to stifle Kennedy, Whisenhunt and the rest of the Cougar “O.”
On the defensive
CV has shown 5-2 cover 2 and 4-3 cover 2 schemes but will jump into a cover 3 if their opponents show trips or three-receiver sides.
“They mix in the cover 3 and an occasional man-to-man to stir things up,” Anderson said.
If the Horns do find CV in a cover 2 defense, tight end skinny post routes work magic, especially when the safeties are jumping the flag route. If the Horns attack CV with those routes, it could mean a big day for tight end Shane Keith.
Kevin Morgan anchors the Chino defense averaging 10 tackles per game. He also has recorded two sacks.
Defensive back Ryan Middleton, a junior, leads the region in interceptions with four.
Whatever Chino throws at Payson, quarterback Ridge Halenar has shown during the first three games that he’s rounding into a polished passer that could pick the Cat defense apart. His average of 102 yards per game through the airways is third best in the East Region.
His favorite target has been wide receiver Tyler Savage who has 181 yards receiving.
The Payson ground game is led by fullback David Carlen, but the roster is full of talented backs capable of breaking off long runs on any given play, especially the inside traps.
As good as the backs and receivers are, the real story behind the 2008 Longhorns is a huge offensive line that has the size to dominate on the line of scrimmage no matter who the opponent.
Following Payson’s 43-0 win last week over Florence, Anderson expressed satisfaction with the line’s pass blocking, but disappointment in run blocking. He promised early in the week that the line problems would be shored up by game time.
If the linemen live up to their potential and blow CV defenders off the ball, the Cougars will find themselves facing a long, long night.
State ninth ranked?
The Horns enter tonight’s game clutching a most unusual plaudit that has fans around Arizona clutching their collective noggins.
In a Max Preps state poll involving schools of all sizes, 1A to 5A, the Horns are ranked ninth overall.
Which means, Payson is included in the same company with 5A powerhouses like Peoria Centennial, Scottsdale Saguaro, Chandler Hamilton and Scottsdale Chaparral.
Those schools are football factories that yearly churn out D-1 recruits, some of which go on to the pros.
In fact, Payson is ranked ahead of 5A Tempe Desert Vista, a school with a student body of 3,500 students and a team that produced Zack Miller who starred at Arizona State and now plays for the Oakland Raiders.
It’s obvious that in the Max Preps poll, the Horns find themselves in exclusive company.
Kick off this evening is at 7 p.m.
Because the game is homecoming, halftime will be extended for the annual crowning of the king and queen ceremonies.