For the second consecutive week, the Longhorn football team struggled in the early going, but rallied in the second half behind spirited, determined play.
But unlike two weeks ago, when the Longhorns rode the late surge to a 42-7 homecoming win over Sedona, Payson’s rally on Friday evening, Oct. 7, came up short in a 32-20 loss to the Mingus Marauders.
With the defeat, the Horns are in danger of not making the playoffs — because they fall to 3-4 overall and 1-2 in Section III where three teams, Buckeye, River Valley and Mingus, are 3-0 and Fountain Hills is 2-0.
In the loss to Mingus, the Marauders jumped to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter and expanded it to 14-0 in the second before taking a 21-0 cushion at the half.
Midway through the third quarter, Mingus led 27-6.
The Horns then turned on their patented late rally to pull within 12 points before time ran out.
While it has been the ground game that has been Payson’s strength all season long, the team struggled for yardage vs. Mingus with no running back reaching the coveted 100-plus mark.
“That’s the first time this year we haven’t had someone over 100 (yards),” coach Byron Quinlan lamented.
The team did, however, show some promise through the airways with sophomore quarterback Tyus Sarnowski unofficially completing 13 of 22 passes for 200-plus yards.
Sarnowski connected on two TD passes to tight end Cale Novack — one from 16 yards out and the other a 6-yard aerial.
“Tyus did a good job of mixing it up and finding his receivers,” said Quinlan.
Payson’s third touchdown came on tailback Aaron Barnes’ 6-yard dart on a power play off the left side.
Entering the game, the Payson defense was anchored by linebacker Chance Randall who is among the state leaders with an average of 13 tackles per game.
Mingus coach Bob Young, obviously respecting Randall’s prowess, decided on a strategy of double-teaming the Payson linebacker and the ploy worked to some degree.
Randall finished below his average with eight tackles and one fumble recovery.
Cornerback Garrett Geske led the Longhorns in tackles with 10, but that’s a bit of a bittersweet statistic because conventional football wisdom is that a player at that position shouldn’t be a team leader in tackles.
Corners play too far off the line of scrimmage to be involved in making tackles unless the offense is busting big plays.
While Quinlan was pleased with the Horns second half rally, he remains taken aback by the team’s slow starts.
“We seem to come out flat,” he said. “If we can put four quarters together, we can play with anyone.”
The team will have the opportunity to see if it can finally get off to a jump-start on Oct. 14 when the Horns host River Valley in a Senior Night game.
Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
In other games around the state last Friday, Show Low doubled the score on Winslow, 28-14, Snowflake pummeled Page 47-0, Blue Ridge blasted Alchesay 40-0 and Florence beat Casa Grande 35-20.