The Payson Longhorn football team is struggling along with a 1-3 East Region record and 3-6 overall.
Credentials hardly worthy of a state playoff berth. But first-year coach Matt Mayo is predicting the Horns can qualify for the state tournament with a win tonight, Oct. 30, over the visiting Show Low Cougars.
A victory would improve the Horns’ East record to 2-3 tying them with the Cougars for fourth place in the six-team region.
Although the fourth place tie wouldn’t earn Payson a state berth, Mayo believes the Longhorns could advance on power points even though the AIA rankings showed this morning there are 18 teams ranked ahead of Payson.
Only the top 16 teams earn tournament seeds.
In an e-mail to assistant coaches, Mayo said he had run power points math and concluded what it would take for Payson to earn the state berth.
“If we beat Show Low and Santa Cruz beats Coolidge, we will get the 15 seed. Show Low will be 16,” he wrote. “If we win and Coolidge wins, we get 16. Show Low is out.”
However, if Payson falls this evening to the favored Cougars, start thinking about wrestling and basketball — the football season is over.
If the Horns do beat Show Low and qualify, the possible first round opponents are Estrella Foothills, Blue Ridge and Fountain Hills.
The key to a victory over Show Low will rest on the shoulders of defensive coordinator Byron Quinlan’s bandits.
They must stop, or at least contain, Cougar quarterback Rathan Ricedorf (No. 10), the son of the SLHS head coach.
All season long he’s been the V-8 that has powered the Cougar offense.
He’s thrown for 1,772 yards completing 100 of 173 passes for 28 touchdowns with just five interceptions.
He’s also the cats leading ball carrier with 446 yards and four TDs on 56 carries.
Earlier this season, Ricedorf set a state record throwing for nine TDs in a 67-0 win over hapless Chinle.
Some, however, are calling the mark tainted since it came against a lowly opponent and Ricedorf remained in the game well into the fourth quarter after the outcome was no longer in doubt.
Around the East, the word is “stop Ricedorf and you stop the Cougars.”
A possible defensive alignment Quinlan might want to call upon to slow the Cougar aerial attack is “Cover 6” which features three deep defenders. It’s unlike “Cover 3” in that the field is not split into equal zones. Instead, the strong safety is responsible for half the field much like “Cover 2.” The free safety and one cornerback each cover one-fourth of the field. The remaining cornerback is assigned straight, man coverage, usually on the offense’s ace receiver. Against Show Low that would be Josh Weeks (No. 4) who has been a big weapon in the Cougar arsenal with 33 receptions for 841 yards and 11 TDs.
The big question is, can a Longhorn defense that has been porous at times, especially against the pass, contain the talented signal caller?
Only time will tell.
Offensively, the Horns must open holes for running backs Payson Herring, Landen Johnson, Nick Johnson and Jimmy Behrens.
For that to occur, the offensive linemen — led by Schaffer Keith (6 feet, 1 inch, 284 pounds), Mason Dacany (5 feet, 10 inches, 297 pounds) and Logan Garner (5 feet, 9 inches, 232 pounds) — must put a hat on Show Low’s top defenders including Cody Hawkins (No. 22), Trevar MacArthur (No. 21) and (No. 52) Chase Adams.
The trio has combined for almost 200 tackles this season.
Also, the Longhorns’ passing game, which has been mostly non-existent this year, must click to stop the SLHS putting eight players in the box, or with a few yards of the line of scrimmage, to gang up on the run.
When teams do that, it shows they have zero respect for the passing game.
A few successful screens and draws could also help the Horn “O” click on all cylinders.
Beating Show Low will be a tall order for the Longhorns, but the rewards will be great.