2a Champs’ Show Bests 3a Champ Longhorns

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Ambush.

That’s what occurred Aug. 28 in St. Johns where the defending 2A state champion Redskins trapped and waylaid 3A defending champions Payson 19-7.

While there are oodles of gridiron factors behind the demise of the Longhorns, a glaring setback tough to overlook are the 12 penalties for 113 yards.

Some occurred during the midst of drives stalling scoring opportunities and others negated big plays. Also, the Redskins reaped the benefit of flags by picking up four first downs on penalties.

In short, it’s tough for a prep football team to overcome 100-plus yards of penalties, no matter how good the players.

This week in practices, fans can bet the family farm that first-year coach Matt Mayo will be focusing on eliminating penalties and mental mistakes.

Also throwing kinks into the Horn effort against St. Johns were injuries. Senior running back Brandon Alexander went down after just 10 carries, and Payson was without the services of two-way lineman Shaffer Keith, who suffered a knee injury three weeks ago.

“We’re getting Shaffer back this week, but Brandon is doubtful (for the Sept. 4 game in Chino Valley),” Mayo said.

The non-conference clash in St. Johns drew statewide attention, partly because it pitted two defending state champs against one another.

Fans were clamoring to see if the best of the 3A conference was indeed better than the 2A has to offer, which has been a bone of contention for decades.

The Redskins got on the scoreboard in the first quarter on a 21-yard scoring pass from quarterback Steve Lindsey to Garrett Anderson.

With 9:19 remaining in the second quarter, Payson tied the score on a 10-yard TD aerial from quarterback Jake Sleeper to Cameron Geske.

The score capped Payson’s most impressive drive of the game — 11 plays for 74 yards.

After that tally, the game turned into one of utter frustration, as Payson went on drive after drive that ended with punts or running out of downs.

Check the stats:

• 5 plays, 37-yards — punted.

• 6 plays, 57 yards — punted.

• 3 plays, 32 yards — punted.

• 3 plays, 1 yard — punted.

• 3 plays, 33 yards — punted.

• 3 plays, 33 yards — punted.

• 6 plays, 41 yards — turnover on

• downs.

• 8 plays, 46 yards — turnover on

• downs.

And, so it went for the sputtering Longhorn offense.

In the third quarter, with the game tied 7-7, St. Johns scored on Anderson’s 11-yard scamper. After the extra point was blocked, St. Johns led 13-7.

With 7:22 remaining in the fourth quarter, St. Johns salted the game away with an insurance TD that capped a 12-play, 61-yard drive. Anderson got the score on a two-yard run up the middle.

Coach Mike Morgan opted to go for a two-point pass attempt to push the Skins out to a 14-point lead, but it fell incomplete.

Nonetheless, the TD gave St. Johns a 12-point lead the Horns could never erase.

If there was a Redskin thorn in Payson’s side all evening long, it was Cade Ashton, who rushed for 103 yards on 17 carries.

For Payson, junior Weston Gibson was a workhorse, picking up 106 yards on 12 carries. He also was on the receiving end of two Sleeper aerials for nine yards.

Sleeper, in his first start as a varsity quarterback, suffered through the usual rookie frustrations, completing 10 of 29 passes for 106 yards and a TD.

His favorite target, Max Johnson, caught four passes for 45 yards.

To Sleeper’s credit, he did not have a pass intercepted.

As a team, Payson actually controlled the ball longer (25:44 to 22:16), racked up more total offense (275 yards to 261 yards) and had no turnovers. But those advantages were negated by the penalties and miscues.

After playing a 2A school, Payson returns to the 3A ranks Friday against Chino Valley, a team the Horns have handled easily the past two seasons. Chino opened their season Aug. 28 with a 21-0 loss to Camp Verde, a team Payson showed well against during a preseason controlled scrimmage.

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