Thanks to the generosity of the Tonto Apache Tribe, Longhorn football players will be decked out in spanking new uniforms when they take the PHS field this evening against the visiting Snowflake Lobos.
Recently, the tribe donated $10,477.26 to the team, which allowed coach Byron Quinlan to purchase the new uniforms that will replace the dated and worn outfits the players wore during the early part of the season.
“We are really grateful to the tribe for helping us out,” said Quinlan. “They really stepped up to help us; this is a great gesture.”
The new uniforms, from Rawlings Sportswear, include the black, purple and gold the team will wear at home and white garb the Horns will don while on the road.
The tribal council gave the check to Quinlan and PHS athletic director Rob Varner during ceremonies on Sept. 28 at the reservation, located south of Payson.
While it is a given that Horn players will look sharp vs. the Lobos, what is not known is what kind of effort they’ll put forth tonight in pursuit of their second East Region victory.
Payson enters the game 3A third-ranked clutching a 4-1 record (1-0) in the East and eager to prove they are the real deal after a lackluster 2009 season in which the team won just three games.
The Lobos, who once held a two-decade long hex over Payson, are 3-1 having lost last week 41-7 to the top-ranked Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets.
The Lobos, however, played the highly regarded Jackets on even terms throughout the first half before stumbling in the second.
Snowflake does have some convincing wins this season, whipping Winslow 29-14 and Globe 37-0.
The Lobos are led by 5-foot-7-inch 145-pound quarterback Trevor Reddick who is a threat through the airways and on the ground.
He’s passed for 267 yards, but has been intercepted five times. His rushing average of 3-plus yards is skewed somewhat by the sacks he’s suffered.
The one-two punch of Tyler Johnson and Ammon McKinley key the Lobos ground game. Johnson is averaging 7 yards per carry and McKinley averages just under 7. Johnson is the scoring leader with five touchdowns.
A Payson win over the Lobos would be a breath of fresh air for the many PHS alumni who suffered for years under Snowflake’s dominance.
Mike Loutzenheiser, a 1987 PHS alum who starred in football and basketball, returned to PUSD years ago to coach and teach.
His dislike of the Lobos turned immediately obvious when he told a group of middle school athletes, “A win over Snowflake is great; I don’t care what the sport or level is, it could be kindergarten tiddlywinks and beating them would be fun.”
Loutzenheiser was one of those athletes who never basked in a football victory over the Lobos. In 1986, he was a member of the football team that lost a 7-0 gut-wrenching decision to the Lobos in the state championship finale.
The demon-like gridiron spell the Lobos owned over PHS was exorcised in 1999 by a Longhorn team that scored the winning TD in the final seconds on a fourth-down play action pass from Kyle Conway to Dusty Brockett.
Then-coach Jim Beall, who ironically once coached at Snowflake, passed on a game-tying field goal try in favor of a pass attempt that produced the winning points.
Following that first-ever win, Payson beat the Lobos only in 2005 and 2007 before the 2008 state championship team overwhelmed the Lobos once in the regular season and again in the playoffs.
Last season, the Lobos overwhelmed PHS 31-0.
Many Payson players from the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s continue to regard Snowflake as the Longhorns’ biggest rival, even though the Lobos regard neighboring Show Low as public enemy No. 1.
Line play crucial
If Payson is to emerge victorious this season, the offensive and defensive lines must control the line of scrimmage as Blue Ridge did in the second half in its win over Snowflake.
If the linemen can dominate offensively, it will open running lanes for tailback Payson Herring, fullback Clint Harper and Z-back/tailback Westin Gibson.
Those being counted on in the trenches include Jake Gonzales, Justin Moratti, Sean Ford, Tanner Clawson, Keaton Duran and Tanner Savage.
The trio of Harper, Herring and Gibson could be among the best in the conference, but they need help from the guys up front to do what they do best — run and score.
Defensively the Horns are led by Harper, a middle linebacker who has a nose for the ball as evidenced by his team-leading 35 tackles.
Sam linebacker Chase Walden, only a sophomore, improves with each game and could give the Lobos fits if he is at the top of his game.
The Horns will be without the services tonight of two-way starter Ryan Rislund who broke his collarbone in last week’s win over Santa Cruz.
Risland was a fixture at “X” or wide receiver and a standout in the defensive backfield where he led the team in unassisted tackles.
Kickoff tonight is at 7 p.m.