During the practice week leading up to the Longhorns’ state tournament opening game vs. Round Valley, everyone associated with the football program understood that playing in the school’s massive ensphere would be a tough challenge.
And they were on target, as evidenced by the Horns’ 30-14 loss on Nov. 6 to an Elks team Payson had beaten 42-0 earlier this season on PHS field.
“Playing in the dome is always tough,” said coach Byron Quinlan.
But playing in the strange, indoor atmosphere was not the only obstacle the Horns faced.
“Round Valley controlled the line of scrimmage and controlled the time of possession,” Quinlan said. “Our kids played hard, but Round Valley played and executed a great game plan.”
The Payson coach is predicting great things for the surging Elks, “It wouldn’t surprise me to see them in the semifinals with three other East teams.”
Quinlan says he is making the bold prognostication because “the East is the toughest (region) to play in and always has been.”
He argues that if Payson was aligned in one of the other three geographical regions, “We could have had a stellar record, but might not have been as good.”
The Horns wrapped up the season 5-6 overall and 2-3 in the East.
In the loss to Round Valley, Payson fell behind 10-0 with 44 seconds remaining in the first quarter, only to rally to take a 14-10 second-quarter lead.
At halftime, RV had assumed a 17-14 lead, but the Horns seemed to be in contention for a second-half run.
“We had our chances, but we had costly penalties that ultimately cost us the game,” Quinlan said. “I’m thankful for all the kids that fought hard to the end.”
The “great game plan” Quinlan lauded obviously centered on stopping Payson’s power option running attack that had performed so well in the Horns’ regular season thumping of the Elks.
RV defenders constantly bottled up star tailback Payson Herring, holding him to 55 yards rushing on 14 attempts. Herring did break off a touchdown run.
Westin Gibson had five carries for 42 yards.
The Elks’ “D” also grounded the Payson aerial game, limiting quarterback Wade Hunsaker to six completions in 13 attempts.
On special teams, Gibson tallied one of Payson’s TDs. scoring on an 80-yard punt return.
Following Payson’s elimination from the postseason, Quinlan thanked “the kids that sacrificed playing time and ultimately brought into being a true team player.”
He continued, “Those athletes that didn’t see the field as much as they would have liked and didn’t complain are the kids I always will respect.”
With Payson and the other seven first-round losers eliminated from the state tournament, first-round survivors move to elite eight games to be played Nov. 13 at Williams Field and Desert Ridge High School in the Valley.