The lone bright spot in the homestanding Longhorns’ 15-7 non-region loss to Fountain Hills was Ryan Rislund’s 93-yard kickoff return which, coupled with Josh Frewin’s conversion kick, gave Payson a short-lived 7-0 lead.
From that moment on, the game turned into a Fountain Hills highlight reel as the Falcons parlayed two safeties of PHS quarterback Jake Sleeper, Beau Hilgeman’s one-yard TD plunge and Ty Blunt’s 32-yard field goal into the eight-point victory.
The game, however, was not as close as the final score indicated, as FH dominated in time of possession, 33:15 to 14:15; first downs, 13 to 1; and total yardage, 249 to minus 34.
In the loss, the Horns played without two of their standouts, running back Payson Herring and quarterback/running back Westin Gibson. Also senior running back Brandon Alexander went to the sidelines in the third quarter after being dinged, but later returned.
Alexander was held to a net minus 3 yards rushing on seven carries.
Gibson is seeking medical advice on an injured ankle and could be out for the remainder of the season.
Herring is suffering from a painful hip pointer and reportedly Alexander was taken to the hospital after the game, possibly with a concussion.
Sleeper, running for his life all evening long, completed one of 13 passes for minus 3 yards and had one intercepted.
Throughout the loss, the Horns suffered from the same malady they have all season long — the inability to mount a sustained drive.
In fact, of Payson’s 12 possessions, nine were 3-and-outs.
The longest drive of the night, four plays, produced only 17 yards and ended on a turnover on downs.
With the loss the Horns fall to 2-5 overall, 0-2, in the East and will need a miracle finish to qualify for the playoffs and defend their 2009 state championship.
With three games remaining in the season, the Horns are sitting 18th in power points —two slots out of a state tournament berth.
In a pair of remaining games, Oct. 16 vs. Blue Ridge and Oct. 30 vs. Show Low, the Horns will be huge underdogs.
The injuries render the Horns’ chances against the Yellow Jackets and Cougars, even slimmer.
Payson could salvage a win Oct. 23 against lowly Alchesay but even that “W” might not produce enough power points to be included in the state tournament.