The state third-ranked Longhorn football team improved on Sept. 24 to 4-1 with a convincing 40-9 pounding of the homestanding Eloy Santa Cruz Dust Devils.
A victory margin of 31 points might seem to call for a bit of chest pounding and hootin’ and hollerin’, but coach Byron Quinlan was much less celebratory.
“I didn’t think we played that well, especially in first half,” he said.
Those comments reflected on an opening two quarters in which the Horns built a 20-3 lead, thanks in part to some hard-nosed running by seniors Westin Gibson and Payson Herring.
Coming out of the halftime locker room, Quinlan was looking for more enthusiasm from his players and a renewed commitment.
His hopes were fulfilled, “We turned it up in the third quarter and increased our lead to 40-3,” he said.
Herring and quarterback Wade Hunsaker both had long scoring runs in the stanza.
“Payson had about a 72-yard TD and Wade had about a 60-yard run on an option around right end,” Quinlan said.
In the fourth quarter, the coach called off the dogs, sending reserves onto the field.
“We got a lot of kids in,” said Quinlan.
Herring finished as the leading rusher with 169 yards in 13 carries. Hunsaker carried six times for 66 yards and Gibson picked up 66 yards in seven carries.
For the game, the Horns racked up 336 yards on the ground.
Through the airways, Hunsaker completed 3 of 9 passes, two of which went to Gibson — the team’s starting “Z” or wingback.
For PHS, the scoring was well distributed as Gibson, Herring, Hunsaker and fullback Clint Harper scored TDs.
Defensively, Quinlan praised sophomore Chase Walden for his ball hawking abilities, “He had a great game, made some solid tackles.”
In the Horns’ 43 defensive scheme, Walden plays “Sam” or the strong side linebacker position.
If there was any negative to come out of the game, it is the loss of Ryan Risland due to a broken collarbone.
“It happened when he put a solid hit on a kid that had caught a short pop pass and dropped him for a loss,” said Quinlan.
The injury marked the second time in the past two seasons that Risland has been sidelined by a broken collarbone.
Last year, he missed the first part of the season after being injured in summer passing league play.
He returned midway through the campaign.
Risland, who this season starts at “X” or wide receiver and plays free safety on defense, could be replaced by either Josh Oakley or Blake Brown.
In other 3A games around the state, top-ranked Lakeside Blue Ridge defeated Snowflake 47-7, Show Low thumped Round Valley 44-14, Tucson Empire ran roughshod over San Tan Foothills 61-32, Winslow beat Chinle 54-0, Fountain Hills pummeled Globe 63-0, Florence bested Safford to the tune of 35-19 and Wickenburg slipped past Chino Valley 9-6.
Next up for Payson is the Snowflake Lobos. Kick off is 7 p.m., Friday, Oct. 1 in PHS stadium.