A new computerized scheduling system coupled with tough economic times played major roles in the Longhorn football team facing the toughest schedule in the program’s history.
In the first two weeks of the season, a stretch usually reserved for tune-up games against lesser opponents, the Horns take on defending 2A state champion St. Johns (Aug. 28) and Class 4A Division II Mingus, a team that won the 2008 region title and took a No. 9 seed into the state tournament.
The Marauders advanced to the quarterfinals before being eliminated by eventual state champion Notre Dame.
In St. Johns, veteran coach Mike Morgan thrives on beating 3A teams and he’ll have his players’ sky high against the defending state champion Longhorns.
Anyone who has ever coached or played football in the White Mountains understands that playing the Redskins on their home turf is a daunting challenge partly because of the community wide support, rich athletic tradition and the fine coaching of Morgan.
Over in Mingus, coach Bob Young’s Marauders consider themselves a 4A powerhouse and surely will be motivated by not wanting to lose to a “small school” team.
Sandwiched between St. Johns and Mingus is a non-region clash against Chino Valley (Sept. 4).
After battling through those three toughies, Payson must take on the Beasts of the East including Round Valley (Sept. 18), Snowflake (Oct. 2), Blue Ridge (Oct. 16) and Show Low (Oct. 30).
That’s a Murderer’s Row type of challenge.
The making of a schedule
The saga of how Payson ended up with a schedule that would test the grit of the finest of prep football teams began last winter with an Arizona Interscholastic Association mandate that scheduling for the 2009-2010 school year would be taken out of the hands of athletic directors and turned over to computers.
The only trouble was, all the conferences couldn’t agree on scheduling criteria.
“So, it was decided that the computer would only spit out seven football games, and the others (up to three) could be done by the ADs,” said PHS athletic director Jason Lobik.
“If teams just wanted to play seven games, that would be OK, the other games would be optional ... I imagine there might be some (schools) who settled for that.”
With the AIA scheduling only seven games, it was decided that power points — which are used to seed teams into the state tournaments — would be doled out only for those games.
Last year, power points were awarded for all 10 games.
Under the new system, Payson will not receive power points for games against St. Johns, Chino Valley and Mingus.
That’s a bit of a setback for PHS since Mingus is a 4A school and 3A teams receive additional power points for scheduling games in a higher conference.
Also, when state officials decided schools did not have to play the traditional 10-game schedule, some ADs around the state decided to lop contests off their schedules in a budget-cutting move.
Among those schools to decide to play only a nine-game schedule were Snowflake and Holbrook.
“Snowflake is cutting one game off in every sport,” Lobik said. “And the game Holbrook dropped off was against us.”
Payson High administrators, however, decided to continue with 10 games partly because the football program is the cash cow of the athletic budget.
But, with only seven games on the PHS schedule, Lobik spent over a month scrambling to find three additional clashes.
“It was tough because there weren’t many teams out there, especially those that cut their schedules,” Lobik said.
The PHS AD was first able to add Chino Valley, a West Region team, that the Horns have played the past two seasons.
Mingus officials then stepped up and said they would like to play partly because, “the two schools are close together geographically,” Lobik said.
Now with a nine-game schedule, the AD scoured the state looking for a 10th and final game.
After weeks of scrambling, the answer was found in the White Mountains where Show Low had dropped St. Johns from its schedule.
“St. Johns heard we were looking for another game and we got together with them,” Lobik said.
But, the Redskins would only play Payson as a home game.
That demand left Lobik between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
“I had to decide whether to travel there and be insured of a game or risk not having a 10th game at all,” he said. “There was a chance I couldn’t find another team if we didn’t go along with St. Johns.”
But playing in St. Johns meant the Horns would have six road games and only four at home.
Nonetheless, Lobik accepted St. Johns’ offer to play there.
In June, Payson’s schedule balanced out at a 3A athletic director retreat.
There Lobik learned Blue Ridge had six home games — one against Payson — and four on the road. Because of that, BR school officials offered to change the Yellow Jacket vs. Longhorn game site to Payson from Lakeside.
With that switch, the Horns now have five home games and five in which the team travels. Lobik calls the entire scheduling process mind-boggling. “We were scrambling, looking for games anywhere.”
The result of the topsy-turvy scheduling system is that the Longhorns have finally pieced together a 10-game schedule, but it’s a demanding stretch of crucial prep showdowns with very few breathers.