It’s the proverbial “out of the frying pan and into the fire” for the Payson Longhorn football team.
After falling 25-19 to Fountain Hills, the Horn players and coaching staff now must face the White Mountain gridiron juggernaut known as the Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets.
The Lakeside team is undefeated, No. 1 ranked in every poll, has outscored its opponents 283 to 14 and is a heavy favorite to waltz away with the 3A state championship. Blue Ridge’s dominance is due in part to a talent-laden lineup that includes two high profile transfers — Chayse Russell formerly of Winslow and last year’s 2A Player of the Year Jordan Morgan who played at Valley Christian last season.
The Jackets also boast the state’s most seasoned coaching staff led by Paul Moro who has been head coach at the school for 26 years.
Kickoff is at 7 p.m., Friday, Oct. 15 in Lakeside.
Comeback falls short
Against homestanding Fountain Hills Falcons on Oct. 8, Payson fell behind 18-6 in the first half and roared back with a determined rally, but couldn’t score the tying or winning points.
“The kids responded in the second half after coming out kind of flat,” said coach Byron Quinlan. “Westin Gibson had a pretty good game for us.”
Gibson played running back and Z-back on offense and defensive back when the Falcons had the ball.
Longhorn running back Payson Herring, who averages 9.86 yards per carry, was held pretty much in check by a Fountain Hills defense led by Mike DeGroote who was officially credited with a game-high 14 tackles.
Payson’s defense, anchored by senior Clint Harper, kept the Falcons at bay much of the time holding FH’s best running back, Wesley Musa, to just 72 yards on 13 carries. He did, however, score a touchdown.
The Falcons’ longest run from scrimmage was 15 yards.
While the loss drops Payson 4-3 overall, the Horns remain in reasonably good shape in the power points rankings.
Of the 28 teams in the 3A conference, the Horns are ranked eighth.
That ranking, however, could change dramatically by the end of the season because at this point in the campaign, Payson has played one more game than some teams.
Which means they have had the opportunity to garner more points.
But when the rankings are adjusted for games played, the Horns will probably take a plunge.