The Payson Longhorns’ 14-7 loss to the Snowflake Lobos on Friday evening in PHS stadium renders the outcome of four remaining games all important in the team’s pursuit of a state playoff berth.
The loss dropped Payson to 4-2 overall, 1-1 in the East Region.
Looking down the road, the Horns are almost assured of a victory Oct. 22 against hapless Alchesay, but games against Fountain Hills (Oct. 8), Blue Ridge (Oct. 15) and Show Low (Oct. 29) will test the players’ resolve.
Blue Ridge is top-ranked, unbeaten and almost everyone’s favorite to win the 3A state championship.
Show Low is also unbeaten and has in its arsenal record-setting quarterback Rathen Ricedorf, who is considered to be among the country’s finest quarterbacks.
He now holds the 3A state career record for passing yardage and touchdowns.
In Show Low’s 42-2 win over Fountain Hills on Friday, Ricedorf completed 23 of 35 passes for 409 yards and five touchdowns.
Although Fountain Hills was pretty well humbled by Show Low, the Falcons are steeped in gridiron tradition and guided by veteran coach Jim Fairfield.
It’s a solid bet, Fountain Hills will bounce back from the loss to the Cougars and make life miserable on remaining opponents.
In Payson’s loss to Snowflake, the Longhorns opened on a tear, scoring on the first play from scrimmage on senior tailback Payson Herring’s 55-yard touchdown gallop.
Russ Hintze’s successful conversion kick gave the Horns a 7-0 lead with 11:45 remaining.
About three minutes later, Snowflake tied up the score on Ammon McKinley’s five-yard run and Trevor Reddick’s extra point.
With 5:41 to go in the second quarter McKinley scored again, this time on a three-yard scamper.
Again the extra point was good giving the Lobos their first lead of the game.
The TD was also the final points as both teams were scoreless in the second half.
McKinley was a thorn in the Horns’ defense all evening long, rushing for 131 yards on 26 carries.
Although the loss is a bitter pill to swallow for Payson players, coaches and fans, the good news is that the team can right its listing ship mostly because of the presence of running back/Z-back Westin Gibson, senior fullback Clint Harper, quarterback Wade Hunsaker and the shifty Herring.
All are among the 3A conference’s most talented players and with renewed dedication and a few tweaks of the offense and defense, the Longhorns are capable of earning an advantageous seed into the state tournament when it begins Nov. 6.
In other 3A games around the state, top-five ranked Empire rolled over Alchesay 55-13, Blue Ridge pounded Globe 48-7, Parker slipped past Estrella Foothills 7-0, River Valley won 2-0 over South Pointe, Wickenberg bested San Tan Foothills 34-20, Round Valley humbled Window Rock 48-0 and Winslow ran past archrival Holbrook 47-24.