The Payson Longhorn football team gave highly favored and state second-ranked Show Low all the grief the Cougars could handle before falling 45-41 on Trevar MacArthur’s touchdown catch in the final 23 seconds.
In the East clash played Oct. 29 in Show Low, Payson led 41-38 with less than three minutes remaining and was on the verge of the biggest upset in the region this season.
Show Low signal caller Rathen Ricedorff came riding to the rescue, directing a game-winning 83-yard drive that culminated with MacArthur’s TD grab.
“We had a tough time shutting Ricedorff down,” said Longhorn coach Byron Quinlan. “He’s got a great arm and a lot of weapons to throw to.”
Ironically, Ricedorff’s father, Randy, the Show Low head coach, was not on the sidelines to see his son lead the game-winning drive.
School officials earlier suspended the coach for one game due to an incident that occurred a week earlier following the Cougars’ loss to Blue Ridge.
Randy Ricedorff approached a BR player following the game, accusing him of cheap shots.
The incident almost led to an altercation, and Ricedorff apologized for his actions, but was suspended for the Payson vs. Show Low game.
In the win, Rathen Ricedorff was at his best, completing 25 of 32 passes for 358 yards, even though he didn’t have one of his favorite targets, Jacob Ellsworth, available. Ellsworth was injured on the second play of the game.
Without Ellsworth, Ricedorff turned to wideout Josh Weeks, hooking up with him for 200 yards on nine receptions.
During the game, Ricedorff broke the state record for career touchdown passes, completing four to up his total to 96.
Phillip Aholt of Cactus Shadows held the previous record of 94.
While Quinlan praised Ricedorff’s arm, he also says he is “very elusive with his feet” which meant Payson defenders spent much of the evening chasing the QB.
Entering the game, which was the final regular season clash of the year for both teams, Payson players and coaches set a goal of improving for the upcoming state playoffs and heading home with an upset.
“We accomplished (one) goal, the kids played tough, but unfortunately we fell short (of an upset) in the last minute,” Quinlan said.
Following the game, the coach lauded his offensive line saying, “I was impressed, we were able to power the ball and keep them off balance with our passing — our kids fought hard until the end.”
With the regular season at an end, the coach is predicting if his team members “continue to play hard and eliminate costly penalties and turnovers, we will be reckoned with in the playoffs.”
Individually, Quinlan praised the offensive efforts of Westin Gibson, Wade Hunsaker, Clint Harper and Chase Walden.
Gibson is a running back and flanker, Hunsaker plays quarterback and Harper and Walden are fullbacks.
“Westin had some big plays as he always does, and Wade helped balance our ground attack by hitting some big plays through the air,” he said. “Clint and Chase ran the ball well and picked up some key blocks.”
Defensively, the coach cited Cameron Geske for his performance saying, “He laid out some big hits and is just a hard-nosed player.”
Gunner Bauer and Tanner Clawson also drew praise for their efforts at containing sweeps, bootlegs, waggles and sprint outs, “they did a good job keeping outside containment.”
However, if the Longhorns are going to be successful in the playoffs, which begin this week, the pass defense must improve.
“We’ve got to get better at rotating our secondary over into different coverage packages and communicating with one another on the field,” said Quinlan.
With the loss, the Longhorns finished 5-5 on the season and ranked No. 11, among 26 teams, in power points.
Payson plays a state first-round game at 7 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 6 in Eagar-Springerville vs. the Round Valley Elks.