It’s a short trip from the penthouse to the outhouse.
Just ask the Payson Longhorns football team that just wrapped up a 3-7 (1-4 in the East) season after going undefeated (14-0) last year and winning the state championship.
The 2009 season opened in August with great expectations, mostly because the defending champs, obviously hit hard by graduation, still had several returning and talented veterans to form the nucleus of the new team.
Westin Gibson, Nick Johnson, Brandon Alexander, Mason Dacanay, Logan Garner, Schaffer Keith and Max Johnson were the returnees who were valuable members of the 2008 championship team.
But as the season wore on, the team struggled to just a trio of wins, one of which was a pure gift from Chino Valley. Payson scored the two winning points in the closing minutes of the game when the Cougar quarterback stumbled and fell in the end zone for a safety.
The disappointing season was lowlighted Friday with a season-ending 35-17 loss to the Show Low Cougars.
The defeat erased all hopes the Horn players and staff had of earning a berth to the state playoffs to defend last season’s championship.
With Show Low’s victory over Payson, the Cougars advance to state as a No. 12 seed and will meet No. 5 Estrella Foothills in the opening round of the tournament on Nov. 7.
Also advancing to state from the East are Blue Ridge, Round Valley and Snowflake.
While most of Payson losses this season have been lopsided and decided early in the first half, the Longhorns were much more credible against Show Low, taking a 17-14 lead into halftime.
With 5:28 remaining in the first quarter, Josh Frewin kicked a 26-yard field goal that capped an impressive 18-play, 83-yard drive.
The field goal pulled Payson within 7-3 of the Cougars, who had scored a TD on the opening drive.
Show Low took a 14-3 lead late in the third quarter before PHS signal-caller Jake Sleeper passed 31 yards to Cameron Geske for the Horns’ first TD of the game.
Only seconds later, linebacker Nick Johnson picked off a Rathan Ricedorf pass and returned it 28 yards for a TD.
Coupled with Frewin’s conversion kick, the scores gave Payson the three-point halftime lead.
The cushion was short-lived, however, as the Cougars came clawing back in the second half for 21 points to ice the victory and earn the much-coveted state playoff berth.
In the loss, the Horns had one of their better rushing efforts of the East region campaign, picking up 184 yards. Of those, fullback Nick Johnson had 129 yards on 16 carries.
Tailback Payson Herring rushed 16 times for 69 yards, including a longest of 23 yards.
Through the airways, Jake Sleeper completed four of 16 passes for 78 yards, but had three intercepted.
Nick Johnson led the defensive charge with two interceptions. Sleeper picked off one of Ricedorf’s errant aerials.
Payson entered the game hoping to slow Ricedorf’s aerial circus, but met with limited success despite intercepting three passes.
Ricedorf, the son of the SLHS coach, completed 13 of 18 passes for 198 yards and three touchdowns.
Show Low’s greatest threat, however, was running back Trevar MacArthur, who rushed for 121 yards on 15 carries and scored one touchdown.
While Show Low has dreams this practice week of the state playoffs dancing in their noggins, Longhorn football players will hang up their gear and turn their attentions to basketball and wrestling. Pre-season practices began yesterday, Nov. 2.