Results from Sept. 19 high school games leave little doubt the 3A East continues to be the most competitive and fiercely contested region in the state.
Consider this, in pre-region play, the six East teams have compiled a 21-3 record and four of its schools have perfect 4-0 marks. Also, those four teams have outscored opponents by a whopping 668 to 196 margin.
The unbeatens are Payson, Snowflake, Blue Ridge and, believe it or not, Alchesay.
Yes, in the White Mountain reservation community where basketball is king and football only an afterthought, the Falcons are rolling over opponents.
It’s a little early to call Alchesay a gridiron juggernaut, but the team is playing better than it has in decades.
Pass-happy Round Valley (3-1) might be as good as any of the top four, but the Elks lost a heartbreaker to neighboring St. Johns in one of those rivalry games where anything can happen.
Ironically, defending state champion Show Low (2-2) is struggling, having lost to St. Johns and an out-of-state team.
The decline of the Cougars was expected because many of the stars of last season graduated in the spring.
The Longhorns kept their record unblemished Friday evening with a 42-16 win over Chino Valley of the 3A West.
For coach Josh Anderson, the win was a much-needed relief.
“My first year (at PHS) we lost by one, last year we lost by seven, so we did a nice job of playing a full game this year and coming out with a win,” he said.
Payson left little doubt after its first two possessions that the Horns were the superior team.
On Payson’s first possession, quarterback Ridge Halenar skillfully marched the team 70 yards in 13 plays before fullback Nick Johnson scored on an eight-yard run.
Josh Frewin booted the extra point to give the Horns a 7-0 lead.
After the Payson “D” forced Chino Valley into a three and out, the Longhorns took over and marched 55 yards in five plays. Junior tailback Brandon Alexander scored on a one-yard run with 1:59 remaining in the first stanza.
On the conversion attempt, the Horns went for two points but the play was unsuccessful.
Payson scored again in the second quarter on senior fullback David Carlen’s seven-yard run. That score coupled with a successful two-point conversion lifted the Horns to a commanding 21-0 halftime lead.
The second half of the game turned into an opportunity for the younger players, especially the sophomores, to showcase their skills.
Payson Herring, a 5-foot-5-inch, 143-pound running back, took full advantage of the chance, scoring two touchdowns, one on a nifty 46-yard run.
The other, a five-yard dart, was scored with 8:46 remaining in the fourth quarter and capped a well-executed 12-play, 86-yard drive.
With Payson’s power option offense churning out several time-consuming drives — in fact the Horns never punted — the defense stepped up to shut out CV until late in the third quarter when quarterback BillyBilly Davis hooked up with Cole Whisenhunt on a 25-yard scoring aerial.
“We got a little sloppy on our pass coverage,” Anderson said.
The defense also gave up 117 yards in rushing to Chino’s Johnny Kennedy.
As the evening wore on, it became obvious that Kennedy is indeed the good back he was billed to be. The Chino star entered the game as the West’s leading ball carrier and the region’s co-MVP last season.
“Chino is a good team with a real good running back (Kennedy),” Anderson said. “They were scrappy and tough like I thought they would be, but we handled them all night.”
For the Payson “D,” weak side linebacker Tyler Savage led the team in tackles with 12. Middle linebacker David Carlen, the East’s leading tackler, contributed 11.
Nick Johnson finished with nine tackles and caused a fumble.
On the line, Bryan Burke turned in a monster evening with five tackles, one sack and a tackle for a loss.
“He did his job very well,” defensive coordinator Kenny Hayes said.
The Longhorns return to play Sept. 26 at 4A Bradshaw Mountain. The Bears (0-4) are coming off a 35-21 loss to rival Prescott.
“Bradshaw is going to be tough,” Anderson said. “It’s a big game for us in the power points but more importantly, they thought it was a fluke that we beat them last year.”
Game time is 7 p.m.