Having had its vaunted rushing attack shut down by a rock solid Mingus defense, the Longhorn football team opted to go to the airways in hopes of rallying for a win.
Sophomore quarterback Tyus Sarnowski responded with his finest varsity game ever, completing 13 of 21 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough as the homestanding Longhorns (3-4) lost, 33-20, the Division IV, Section III showdown played Oct. 7.
Tight end Cale Novack, who was on the receiving end of four passes for 103 yards and two touchdowns, was named “Player of the Week” by head coach Byron Quinlan.
The coach also praised Sarnowski, saying he performed well in the pressure-packed rally attempt.
Tonight, the young signal caller will again find himself under the gun when the Horns take on River Valley with playoff hopes on the line.
If Payson can rev up its rushing attack to supplement a newfound aerial game, Sarnowski and his Longhorn teammates will have a two-pronged attack that could light up the scoreboard and keep their postseason aspirations alive.
Of course, the keys to both rushing and passing success lies with the Tanner Savage-led offensive line that must protect Sarnowski in his five-step drops and wedge holes for backs Clint Harper, Chance Randall, Aaron Barnes and Gunner Goodman.
Against Mingus, Barnes was Payson’s most successful back, but only managed 21 yards on eight carries.
Goodman picked up just four yards on seven carries, but did score on a two-yard TD plunge.
Harper and Randall, both fullbacks, whose main responsibility is blocking, were held to a combined two yards.
While Novack was Sarnowski’s favorite target vs. Mingus, he also spread the ball around, completing three passes to C. J. Nottingham and two each to Josh Oakley, Barnes and Goodman.
“He did a good job of finding his receivers,” said Quinlan.
Defensively, Mingus’ strategy of double-teaming Mike linebacker Chance Randall, the team’s leading tackler, kept him in relative check with eight total tackles, far below his average.
Cornerback Garrett Geske led the team with 10 tackles, linebacker Clint Harper had nine, Oakley recorded eight and Cade Despain and Cody Crisp finished with seven each.
Why River Valley?
When the Arizona Interscholastic Association did away with the region/conference configuration in high school sports, replacing it with divisions and sections, the reasoning behind the change, which took effect this school year, was to reduce travel and out of class time for student-athletes.
So when the 2011 schedules came out, fans were asking, “Why is Payson playing River Valley?”
The two schools are more than 320 miles apart and travel time in a school bus will be six-plus hours.
Which means for River Valley to be in Payson today to dress out and conduct pregame meetings and warm-ups, the Dust Devils probably departed well before 11 a.m. this morning.
Which means more than a half-day out of school, and tiresome hours on the road — so much for the argument of reducing travel and missed classes.
River Valley has been an enigma of sorts this season, losing its first two games, 59-7 to Dixie, Utah and 27-6 to Yuma Catholic, a Division V school.
After those two losses, however, someone in the RV program clicked the “On” switch and the team went on a five-game winning streak that the Devils will try to expand to six tonight against Payson.
Because River Valley is located so far away, on the Arizona-Nevada border, and the Dust Devils have never played Payson or most any of the former East region teams, not much is known about tonight’s visitors.
What is known is that coach Terry Staggs’ defense is a stingy bunch, giving up just 20 points during the win streak.
The “D” shut out Wickenburg and gave up just seven points each to Estrella Foothills and Parker.
Of course, those three teams have combined this season for just five wins, but RV’s defensive showings against the trio impress Quinlan.
“They’ve done some good things this year, like the win over Parker,” he said.
Individually, Carl Sohmer (No. 30), a 5-foot, 7-inch, 155-pound senior linebacker leads the team in tackles with 44.
In the Dust Devils’ 41-6 home win over Williams, Sohmer had a game to write home about, putting several hard licks on Viking ball carriers that resonated throughout the stadium. Offensively, he rushed for 149 yards and two touchdowns.
Rudy Wallstorm (No. 34), a 5-foot, 9-inch, 160-pound senior, is also a Dust Devil defensive standout, averaging nine tackles per game. He is also tied for team lead in sacks with six.
Offensively, sophomore Derek Advocate (No. 13) pulls the trigger in the RV offense and has built a reputation as a decent runner and a passer still learning the nuances of the position.
Through the airways, he’s completed 12 of 29 passes for 151 yards, but has thrown three interceptions.
On the ground, he’s rushed for 222 yards on 49 carries and two touchdowns.
As good as Advocate and Sohmer are, the real threat in the Dust Devil offense might be freshman running back Brandon Long, who leads the team with 602 yards and five touchdowns on 83 carries.
His yardage ranks him 76th among the more than 500 prep running backs in the state.
Tonight’s PHS vs. MVHS skirmish might be one of the most intriguing occurring in the state, mostly because Mohave Valley is an unknown newcomer in the high country and Payson’s diminishing playoff hopes are on the line.
Kickoff this evening is 7 p.m. in Longhorn Stadium.