Just four years ago, Payson High was aligned in the 4A conference and, for the most part, played on even terms with the so-called “big school” powerhouses.
But that wasn’t the situation Sept. 11 on Longhorn field against Mingus.
The defending 3A state champion Horns were no match for the Marauders, falling 42-14 to a team that is expected to contend for region and 4A II postseason honors.
Payson did, however, appear to be the equal of the visitors in the first half, pulling to within 20-14 at halftime after Mingus had built an early 20-point lead.
But the Marauders pulled out all the stops in the second half, scoring 22 unanswered points to salt the game away.
Most of the Marauders “O” came on the ground, as coach Bob Young’s well-oiled Wing-T pounded the Payson defense for 198 yards rushing.
Marauder signal-caller Nick Alred threw only seven passes, but his only two completions, both to Austin Rogers, were for touchdowns.
The highlight of the evening for the Payson offense was the pair of second quarter scoring drives that gave hope the Longhorns’ “O” was finally beginning to click after struggling most of the early season.
Nick Johnson put the Horns on the scoreboard on a one-yard TD plunge with 6:38 remaining in the stanza. The TD capped a nicely executed 18-play, 75-yard drive. Josh Frewin booted the extra point to close Mingus’ lead to 20-7.
About five minutes later, Johnson, who led the Horns in rushing with 80 yards on 15 carries, scored again, this time on a 16-yard scamper.
Frewin’s conversion kick pulled the Horns to within 20-14.
In the second half, the Mingus defense stiffened, keeping the Horns at bay and forcing five offensive drives to end with punts.
In fact, the longest drive of the second half consisted of just five plays for 44 yards.
As a team, Payson controlled the ball longer than Mingus, 26:03 to 21:57, and had more first downs, 16 to 15. But, Mingus led in total yardage, 275 to 166, and was top dog where it counts most — on the scoreboard.
To the credit of both teams, the game was relatively penalty free with only eight flags thrown, four on each team.
Also there was only one turnover, a fumble by Payson. Committing a single TO is a commendable prep football accomplishment considering the clash was an early season game when players are usually ironing out the kinks and settling into their roles.
The Horns played the game without their leading ball carrier, senior Brandon Alexander, who was held out due to a knee injury. Also missing was defensive standout Max Johnson due to an injury incurred during a midweek practice.
Both are expected to return Sept. 18 against Round Valley in Springerville Eagar.
Individually against Mingus, junior quarterback Weston Gibson absorbed a big-time pounding from the swarming Marauder defense, which held him to 56 yards passing and 21 rushing.
Through the airways he was seven for 18 and did not throw an interception.
Senior Ben Sandoval, who returned to football after playing soccer last season, showed some of the promise he did as a middle school and freshman running back, averaging 3.1 yards on seven carries.
If there is any good news in Payson’s loss, it is that the game carried no power points significance.
This season, power points will be awarded only for the final seven games.
That means Payson — with its 1-2 record — remains in a dead heat for the post-season playoffs with Show Low, Snowflake and Blue Ridge, who are all unbeaten.
Power points will be used to seed the top 16 3A conference teams into the state tournament, set to begin Nov. 7.
The first power points will be awarded for games played Sept. 18.