A close-knit band of 23 Payson High School seniors played their final home football game in the Longhorns’ 54-0 win over the Alchesay Falcons.
The win, on Nov. 22 in Payson, upped the Longhorns’ overall record to 5-4 and East Region credentials to 2-2 with one game, Oct. 29 in Show Low, remaining in the regular season.
The seniors who paced the Horns to the win have mostly been together since they were freshmen and coached by current varsity head coach Byron Quinlan.
“I think they had a great time playing their last home game together,” said Quinlan.
In taking over the reins of the school’s football program last summer, Quinlan said he was partly motivated to assume the challenge because of his allegiance and fondness for the senior players.
Against Alchesay, two of those seniors — Edwin Estrada and Sam Lamonte — enjoyed memories of a lifetime.
Estrada scored his first touchdown of the season and Lamont, a lineman, had a rare ball carry — quite unusual for a player who wears No. 60.
“It was great to see Edwin get into the end zone,” said Quinlan. “He’s a kid who has been a true team player.”
About Lamont’s rushing attempt, the coach said, “I think the kids enjoyed seeing him get a carry at the end of the game.
“He’s always been a positive encourager on and off the field.”
Another pair of seniors, Payson Herring and Westin Gibson, turned in probably their finest performances of the season.
Herring, a tailback, picked up 136 yards in nine carries and scored two rushing touchdowns. He also returned a kick 90 yards for a TD.
Gibson scored three touchdowns, two of them rushing and another on a 60-yard punt return.
While the offense was clicking on all cylinders, the defense was equally as formidable holding the Falcons to 152 yards rushing and just 3 yards passing.
Alchesay quarterback Minor Classey was also intercepted once.
While the Falcons have struggled all season long, as they usually do in football, the team obviously has a gridiron gem in Julio Parker.
The teen led the Falcons in both rushing (nine-for-73 yards) and recorded seven tackles, second best on the team.
“He’s a great kid,” said Alchesay assistant principal Tim Fruth. “A good basketball player too.”
Next up for the Longhorns is the state second-ranked Show Low Cougars, who lost their first game of the season on Friday, 36-18, to top-ranked and unbeaten archrival Blue Ridge.
“We know we have a tough opponent in Show Low and that we must execute and not beat ourselves,” Quinlan said “We’ve got to get back to playing disciplined football in order to be successful.”
The best the Longhorns can do in the final regular season standings is a tie for third, but that probably will not earn the team an automatic berth into the state tournament.
The Horns do, however, appear to have a legitimate shot into the postseason via the power points route.
Yesterday morning, the Arizona Interscholastic Association rankings had the Horns listed in 13th place.
And that was without the Alchesay win being recorded, so Payson should move up at least a couple of spots.
In the 3A state tournament bracketing, the first three finishers in each of the four geographical regions receive automatic state berths.
The other four qualifiers are chosen on power points.
A Payson Roundup projection has the Horns finishing at least 12th even if the team falls to Show Low.
Which means, the team should qualify for state with its power points total.