It was Mother Nature playing games with the Payson Longhorns and Camp Verde Cowboys in a season-opening controlled scrimmage.
About 15 minutes into the practice game, played Aug. 21 on PHS field, Earth Mom opened up the skies and dropped a deluge of rain, sleet and hail onto the field, drenching players and spectators. Accompanying the downpour were bolts of lightning which is a sure indicator for coaches to get their players off the field and into shelter.
With spectators huddled in their cars and coaches, players and referees sequestered in old PHS gymnasium, the decision was made that if the rains stopped and lightning dissipated, the scrimmage would be moved to the Rumsey Park artificial surface field to save the PHS turf from further damage.
“I understand why that decision was made, but I was a little disappointed, PHS coach Matt Mayo said. “I think it (moving to Rumsey) had kind of a negative effect.”
In all, the scrimmage was delayed about one hour and 15 minutes by the weather and the move to Rumsey.
In addition to the weather putting a cramp in the gridiron tune-up, Mayo didn’t have much of an opportunity to evaluate senior running back Brandon Alexander, a returning starter from last year’s state championship team.
Just one play into the scrimmage, he was yanked from the field with a leg injury.
“It was minor, we took him out as a precaution,” Mayo said. “He should be fine for St. Johns (Aug 28).
The first-year coach did, however, have the opportunity to assess other players battling for positions vacated by last spring’s graduation.
Among them is middle linebacker, where Nick Johnson and Cade DeSpain are looking for playing time. The two are also contending for starting fullback honors.
At offensive tackles, Mason Dacanay, Tanner Clawson and Shaffer Keith are contenders.
Clawson is also in the running for a defensive end position.
Logan Garner, a proven team leader, or Dacanay could start at nose guard.
Like all astute coaches, Mayo is hesitant to single out any individual players until the season begins in earnest. But to everyone present at the scrimmage, it was obvious junior Westin Gibson is the real gridiron deal.
Because he is such a fine athlete, he presents Mayo and his staff a problem over where to play him so that he can contribute the most to the overall team effort.
He and Jake Sleeper are quarterback possibilities, but Gibson also showed enough running ability to become an all-region or all-state running back.
Mayo and his staff have just this week to decide where Gibson will start on offense.
Defensively, he’s an exceptional safety who saw plenty of playing time there last season.
As a team, Mayo departed the scrimmage happy with his starters, but not quite convinced the reserves are ready for varsity action.
“The first group was really solid, but the others need some work,” Mayo said.
Although the scrimmage was delayed and moved, the new coach said it answered some questions that staff had about the players which will allow them to plug the athletes into their playing slots.
“I think we’re ready to go,” Mayo said.
The season opener in St. Johns kicks off at 7 p.m. The match-up is intriguing in that it features two defending state champions going toe-to-toe.
Last year, the Redskins were undefeated and the Class 2A titleholders. Payson finished 14-0 and won the 3A championship.
Which means, the clash could be a barnburner for the ages.