The Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets showcased why they are unbeaten, state top-ranked and the favorite to win the 3A title in their 49-7 win over the Payson Longhorns Friday.
By controlling the ball twice as long as the Horns (32 to 16 minutes), the Jackets methodically churned out 347 yards of offense behind a small, quick and well-oiled offensive line.
It was obvious from the onset of the game that BR line coach Bob London had molded another first-rate group of linemen that flourish on execution, timing and technique.
When the linemen weren’t clearing the way for the Jackets’ stable of running backs, they were protecting quarterback Jake Meixler, who threw for 133 yards and two touchdowns.
Meixler was also a threat on the ground, rushing for a team-high 81 yards and another two TDs.
For the evening, he totaled nearly 300 yards in offense.
Running back Keevan Schimmel was equally damaging to Horn hopes, with a rushing touchdown, a receiving touchdown, an interception and a 55-yard kick return that set up a Jacket score.
Throughout the lopsided loss, the Longhorns were handcuffed by the loss of several starters to injuries.
Westin Gibson was on the sidelines nursing an ankle injury, Brandon Alexander is out for the season after suffering his second concussion of the year, and Ben Sandoval suffered a shoulder injury during the practice week.
Logan Garner, an all-region center last season, was moved to guard after being fitted with a cast to protect a hand injury.
If the BR game plan was to bottle up Payson Herring — the Horns’ speedy scat back, who has proven to be a game-breaker — the scheme worked to perfection. His longest run was only eight yards, and he finished with 48 yards on 15 carries.
Landon Johnson filled in nicely in the backfield for Alexander, Sandoval and Gibson with 62 yards on 15 carries.
Although quarterback Jake Sleeper threw two interceptions, he completed four of 11 passes, one of which was for Payson’s only TD. With 11:47 remaining in the third quarter and the Horns facing a second-and-eight situation, Sleeper hooked up with 6-foot, 5-inch Dakota Marshall on the 24-yard scoring aerial.
That touchdown, however, was the lone bright spot as Payson managed just 54 yards through the airways and 141 on the ground.
With the loss, the Longhorns fall to 2-6 overall, 0-3 in the region, and now share the East cellar with the Alchesay Falcons, who are also 2-6 overall and winless in the region.
The two clash Oct. 23 in Whiteriver.
With the loss to Blue Ridge, the defending state champion Longhorns’ playoff hopes took another huge hit.
The latest Arizona Interscholastic Association power points rankings show the Horns sitting 19th in the 28-team league. Only the top 16 teams receive berths to the state tournament.
Payson has 22.8571 points, and to reach the playoffs the Horns would have to overtake 16th-ranked River Valley, which has 26.4286 points.
Blue Ridge (second, 45.8571), Round Valley (eighth, 40.7143), Show Low (tied for 12th, 34.2857) and Snowflake (tied for 12th, 34.2857) appear to be East locks to reach the post season.