Pundits around the state are scratching their noggins wondering how the Payson Longhorns pulled off the upset of the football season, stunning state third-ranked and previously unbeaten Round Valley 42-0.
Prior to the PHS homecoming game, which was played Sept. 17 in PHS stadium, small-town Arizona’s armchair quarterbacks were united in their opinion that Elk quarterback Chantz White would storm into Payson (3-1) and light up the Horns as he did last season in RV’s 34-6 win.
This time out, however, Payson’s rock-solid defense, an injury — which sidelined White for much of the game — and stellar play in the secondary held the RV gunslinger in check, allowing him to complete just 4 of 12 passes for 69 yards and one interception.
That Payson pick, which occurred with 7:25 remaining in the second quarter, was returned by Jake Sleeper 24 yards for a touchdown.
The score and Russ Hintze conversion kick gave the Horns a 28-0 lead that would be expanded to 35-0 at halftime on Westin Gibson’s 2-yard scoring run.
The opening two quarters could be known as the “Payson Herring Show” as the speedy senior tailback rushed for three touchdowns and 206 yards before coach Byron Quinlan pulled him from the game as a precautionary measure.
Late in the second quarter, he suffered what is now being called a mild concussion and did not play after halftime.
“I called him Saturday morning and he is okay,” said Quinlan. “But we took him out because we were ahead 35-0 and didn’t want to risk further injury.”
When Herring was in the game, he was particularly effective running off tackle plays behind kick out blocks by fullback Clint Harper and PHS tackles on RV linebackers.
Harper also finished with 57 yards on seven carries.
Gibson, who starts at “Z” or wingback, replaced Herring in the lineup and was almost equally effective, rushing for 110 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries.
The Longhorns came close to losing another backfield starter when quarterback Wade Hunsaker was seen limping off the field.
He, however, did not miss any playing time.
“It was just a twisted ankle, he’s fine,” said Quinlan.
Hunsaker completed 3 of 10 passes for 61 yards, but suffered another of those bugaboos that have bitten him all season long — interceptions.
He threw just one, but Quinlan is hoping to eliminate any of those miscues when the Horns take on the likes of East tough guys, Blue Ridge and Show Low.
While much of the spotlight for the upset is being shed on the backfield and receivers, those who man the trenches on the line of scrimmage should also be applauded for their contributions.
That’s because both the offensive and defensive lines dominated the line of scrimmage, uprooting their Elk counterparts on most every play.
In fact, the “Buffalos” — as some line coaches call their charges — appeared to be much more physical than they were in the first three games of the season.
Left guard Jake Gonzales was downright ornery, as was left tackle Justin Moratti.
Sean Ford started at center and Keaton Duran anchored at right tackle. At right guard, Tanner Clawson and sophomore Tanner Savage share playing time. Despite Savage’s youth and inexperience, he is drawing praise from coaches for being coachable and eager to learn.
“He’s doing a great job,” Quinlan said.
In other games around the state involving 3A teams, Show Low ran rough shod over Chinle 59-8, Blue Ridge shut out Alchesay 47-0, Empire edged Safford 24-21, Winslow thumped Ganado 48-6, Chino Valley blasted South Pointe 42-0, Florence was a TD better than Fountain Hills 21-14 and Santa Cruz, Payson’s opponent next week, lost to Parker 33-6.
The Roundup’s Top 10 3A teams: