With the prep football season gradually winding to an end and the state tournament just over the horizon, small-town football pundits are scratching their collective noggins trying to predict who is in the playoffs and who will be watching from the bleachers.
That task has been made doubly difficult this season by an AIA realignment that did away with the conference-region format that had been used for decades, replacing it with divisions and sections.
There is, however, a certainty in the new alignment and that is it’s going to be bit tougher for teams to earn state berths because Division IV, of which Payson is a member, has 33 teams and 16 of them will receive a postseason ducat.
Last season, the 3A conference sported 29 schools and 16 advanced.
The most common prediction for the postseason, which is based on projected power point numbers and win-loss records, has four teams from each of the three sections in D-IV advancing.
Joining those teams will be four outside qualifiers based on power points.
The bad news for Payson fans is that some armchair quarterbacks are not picking the Horns to play in the postseason because Payson is currently ranked 19th in the power point standings. That, however, could all change if the Horns can win their final games against Scottsdale Coronado and Globe.
Many prognosticators are picking Blue Ridge, Show Low, Snowflake and Winslow, or possibly Window Rock, to qualify from Section I.
Those chosen to qualify from Section II are Seton, Florence, Empire and Coolidge.
Predictions are Buckeye, Fountain Hills, River Valley and Mingus will qualify from Section III, the section in which Payson is a member.
Among those team that could become at-large qualifiers are Monument Valley, Empire, Chinle, Alchesay and Ganado.
If those predictions, and that’s just what they are — predictions only — hold true, there will be more than a few ruffled feathers around the state.
That’s because three northern Arizona reservations schools — Ganado, Chinle and Monument Valley — will be awarded state berths even though they play somewhat weak schedules. Northern Arizona reservation teams are not exceptionally strong year in and year out because the sport is an after thought in those schools and communities where basketball reigns supreme.
Often when north teams make it to state in football, it’s one and out.
There’s little doubt some will argue that sending three north teams to state will take away berths from teams who play much tougher schedules.
Payson can be considered one of those teams if the Horns don’t advance on power points.
Other teams that might not qualify include Scottsdale Coronado, Globe, Chino Valley and Safford.
If Ganado advances as the No. 16 seed, the Hornets could be in for a short stay because they would play No. 1 Blue Ridge in the opening round.
Chinle, which could be a No. 14 seed, would also find tough sledding against No. 3 Snowflake.
Monument Valley, if selected No. 11, might have a chance at upsetting No. 6 Winslow.
While there are plenty of fans making postseason predictions, none will be dead-on accurate until the regular season winds down Oct. 28.
So fans, buckle up your seat belts and ready yourself for a wild and wooly ride through the final three games of the season.
Small lineman plays big
In case you missed the Fountain Hills vs. Payson game on Sept. 9, the Falcons have a mighty mite of a player who’s turning heads around the state.
Ivan Kromerdelj is only 5 feet, 4 inches and 145 pounds, but plays nose tackle and running back for FH.
In the Falcons’ 20-14 win over Payson, he did not carry the ball, those duties fell mostly on Trace Johnson, but he was in on seven tackles, only one of which was assisted.
He also was credited with .5 sacks.
Kromerdelj is said to thrive at nose guard on his speed and quickness, which gives him and advantage over bigger, slower offensive linemen.
Kromerdelj was pressed into action as a running back when Johnson was injured Sept. 16 against Saguaro.
In filling in on “O,” he has rushed 55 times for 285 yards and three touchdowns.
Komerdelj’s family is from Yugoslavia.