The traditional Payson vs. Snowflake preseason scrimmage is in the rearview mirror and the Longhorn express is steaming toward the 2011 opener on Aug. 26 at Chino Valley.
Last season, the Horns romped over the Cougars 39-6, but PHS second-year coach Byron Quinlan is not expecting a blowout this time around.
“They are a much better team than last year and they are very big upfront,” he said. “They run a spread offense and have a quarterback who can scramble.”
In the Aug. 19 scrimmage at Snowflake, the Horns were slowed in the opening series by a case of the jitters, but later settled down to play what Quinlan is calling, “Fairly well.”
Offensively, the Horn running game executed its sweeps and powers well, but must fine tune offensive line play on counters and traps.
“We have to clean that up and there was too many broken plays,” said Quinlan.
For the players, the scrimmage was an opportunity to impress the coaches enough to earn playing time once the season kicks off in earnest.
Among those who most likely nailed down a starting job is junior quarterback Gunner Goodman.
“He did a good job scrambling, he just has to work on hitting open receivers and setting his feet,” said Quinlan.
Goodman is the son of Ty Goodman, a four-year starting quarterback at PHS in the mid-1980s.
In 1986, he was under center when the Horns reached the state championship only to lose a 7-0 squeaker to Snowflake.
Behind Gunner Goodman in the backfield could be fullbacks Clint Harper and Chance Randall.
Either Aaron Barnes or Cade Despain will get the start at tailback.
Cale Novak could be called on to hold down the tight end position and Josh Oakley, C. J. Nottingham and Kyle Raecke are vying for playing time at the wide receiver/slot positions.
Quinlan calls Raecke the team’s most improved player over the course of the past four years.
Tanner Savage, Ty Davis and Anselmo Vasquez will anchor the “O” line.
Davis is penciled in as a center and Savage and Vasquez are guards.
The crux of the story concerning the Longhorn defense is the Horns are deep at linebacker, which could mean some strategy and formation changes from past years when the Horns ran mostly a 4-3 scheme.
Quinlan is hesitant about giving away changes he is considering, but the presence of at least eight strong backers is obviously something the coach might want to take advantage of.
The candidates include Barnes, Michael Wengal, Harper, Despain, Randall, Novack and Savage.
In the secondary, Sid Pierce, Mike Costello, Raecke and Garrett Geske are candidates to play.
On the defensive line, the coach is expecting good efforts from Levi Sopeland, Shade Eckhardt, Wengal and Vasquez.
A real strength of both the offense and defense is the presence of 18 seniors, some of whom, including Harper, Nottingham, Despain and Novack, have considerable playing experience.
Following the visit to Chino Valley, the Horns make their home debut Friday, Sept. 2 against visiting Camp Verde.
Division 4, Section 3
This season, Payson will no longer play in the 3A conference East Region as it has for decades. In Arizona Interscholastic Association realignment, divisions and sections have replaced conferences and regions.
The AIA has assigned PHS to Division 4, Section 3.
Under the region-conference format, Blue Ridge, Snowflake, Round Valley, Show Low and Alchesay were fellow East members and consequently always on the Horns’ schedule. With the realignment, those former East schools are now in football’s Division 4, Section 1.
In football this season, Show Low is the only former East rival the Horns have scheduled.