Among the spoils that could go to the victor of tonight’s Payson vs. Mingus Division IV, Section III showdown is an all-important berth in the 16-team “state” tournament that begins Nov. 5.
The losers of tonight’s game, however, might find themselves on the outside looking in when the postseason kicks off.
Which means there’s a good deal at stake for players, coaches and fans of the two schools, which are located within 70 miles of one another.
In past seasons, Payson would not be playing Mingus with as much at stake, because the two schools were aligned in different conferences and regions. Until this year, Mingus was a Class 4A Grand Canyon Region school and Payson was a member of the Class 3A East Region.
But the Arizona Interscholastic Association realigned teams this year, placing Payson and Mingus in D-IV, Section III despite the fact MHS has 472 more students than Payson High.
Which means, Marauder coach Bob Young has a much larger student population to draw players from than does PHS coach Byron Quinlan.
What Mingus’ edge in attendance will mean won’t be known until game time this evening.
A given, however, is that the winner of tonight’s showdown will have an edge in reaching the playoffs because the victor improves to 4-3 and loser falls to 3-4.
The winner also moves ahead in a power points race that is almost dead even between the Horns and Mingus.
Payson is currently ranked 15th with 19.2975 points and Mingus is sitting 16th with 19.2092 points.
Also, there are six D-IV teams with 3-3 records and moving over the .500 mark will be a big-time plus in the chase for a state tournament berth.
In hosting the Marauders, Quinlan is expected to give sophomore Tyus Sarnowski his second start of the season at quarterback.
Last week in a 42-7 win over Sedona, which was Sarnowski’s first varsity start, Quinlan praised the rookie signal caller for doing “a good job managing the game.”
Junior Gunner Goodman started the first five games of the season at QB, but was moved to tailback last week to share playing time with Aaron Barnes.
Goodman responded with one of the finest games of his career, rushing officially for 138 yards on 11 carries.
For his efforts, coaches selected Goodman the Longhorns’ “Player of the Week.”
The Horns also received a strong running effort from Barnes, who picked up 138 yards on 13 carries.
Through the airways, Sarnowski was efficient, if not spectacular, completing five of 13 passes for 81 yards and a TD.
Tight end Cale Novack was on the receiving end of three passes for 63 yards.
The real story of the Longhorns’ success this year might be in the one-two linebacking punch of Chance Randall and Clint Harper.
The wham-bam duo is ranked among the state’s top tacklers regardless of school size classification.
Randall, a junior is ranked sixth in Arizona with 78 total tackles, 34 of which are assisted and 44 solos. He also has six sacks to his credit, which is also among Arizona’s best.
Harper is ranked 33rd in the state with 62 tackles — 23 assisted and 39 solos. He also has four sacks.
The two buoy coordinator Jake Swartwood’s defenses whether the team is in a 4-3 or a 3-5 formation.
The Horn “D” also has some solid down linemen led by Tanner Savage, who returned to the lineup last week after being sidelined all season with an ankle injury.
The defensive backfield, led by Kyle Raecke and Garrett Geske has also turned in some solid efforts this season.
Containing the Wing-T
For Payson to emerge victorious this season, Swartwood’s bandits must be at their best to bottle up the Wing-T offense that Young has run since Custer was a corporal.
Quarterback Luke Simmons (No. 8) pulls the trigger in the offense, which features, traps, sweeps, bootlegs, counters, some motion and, on occasion, trips or three receiver sides.
The workhorse in the “O” is running back Josh Longfellow, a stubby 5-foot-6-inch, 200-pound junior.
He’s rushed for 334 yards on 44 carries with a longest run of 57 yards.
Carlos Abrigo (No. 6) is the team’s scoring leader having tallied eight touchdowns in 338 yards rushing.
If Simmons goes to the airways, his favorite target likely will be Evan McFarland (No. 18), a 6-foot-2-inch senior.
Safety Zack Pelletier (No. 11) and Longfellow, a linebacker, anchor the Mingus 4-3 defense, averaging seven tackles per game.
Special teams are always solid on Young-coached teams and it’s no secret he designates a good deal of practice time perfecting them.
This year’s team again appears to be solid with their punter, Abrigo, averaging a whopping 40-plus yards on 13 punts.
That’s a mark that would render a D-1 university player proud.
Scouting reports indicate Andrew Hickey (No. 22) is a solid place-kicker both on kickoffs and point-after attempts.
Return specialist Tyler Herndon (No. 12) is averaging 26-plus yards on kickoffs and Chris Carillo (No. 4) is billed as a capable punt returner.
Game time this evening in Longhorn stadium is 7 p.m.