There’s not much argument that the Longhorn football schedule could turn out to be the toughest in the history of the program.
But if there is a breather, it’s today, Sept. 4, in Chino Valley.
The Cougars have been lightly regarded in pre-season prognostications and lived down to the lack of hype by losing their opener 21-0 to Camp Verde.
In Chino’s loss, the Cowboys scored all their points in a second-quarter explosion and then held on for the victory.
Ryan Middleton, who rushed for 34 yards on six carries, led Chino’s anemic offense. However, some of those gains were negated by the 24 yards in losses other Cougar players were thrown.
As a team, Chino gained a miniscule 25 yards on the ground and the passing game was non-existent. Middleton’s 18-yard run was the longest gain of the game and the lone bright spot in the Cougar offense.
Defensive coordinator Byron Quinlan’s bandits shouldn’t have much trouble caging the Cougars without ever getting out of the base 43 defense.
In short, the Cougars are not expected to make much noise tonight or during the remainder of the season.
The defending state champion Longhorns will be out to rebound from an ugly 19-7 season opening loss to the St. Johns Redskins.
In the defeat, the only points Payson could muster came on a 10-yard pass to Cameron Geske from quarterback Jake Sleeper.
If Payson is to dominate this evening in Chino, the Horns must crank up the vaunted ground game they had last year. Which means, tailback Westin Gibson and fullback Nick Johnson must run with reckless abandon and the offensive line must control the line of scrimmage.
The good news on the PHS front is that 6-foot-1-inch, 284-pound lineman Shaffer Keith should be back in action after being sidelined with a knee injury.
The Horns, however, could be without the services of starting tailback Brandon Alexander, a senior who was injured in the loss to St. Johns.
With Alexander out, Gibson picked up the slack rushing 12 times for 108 yards including a longest run run of 30 yards.
Against St. Johns, Gibson showed flashes of being as good as some of his talented predecessors including Ty Chilson, Waylon Pettet, Brody Scott and Tom Rauh.
If the Horns are forced to the airways, Nick Johnson was Sleeper’s favorite target at St. Johns and could be again. But long and lanky Dakota Marshall is an inviting target at 6 feet, 6 inches, 195 pounds.
A Sleeper to Marshall connection could eventually turn into a valuable weapon in the Longhorn arsenal.
The bottom line this evening in Chino Valley is the Cougars present a catnip chance for the Horns to even their record before the schedule turns doubly rugged Sept. 11 against Class 4A powerhouse Mingus.