A pair of prep football teams struggling for respectability while continuing to harbor hopes of wrapping up the season with a .500 record clash tonight in Scottsdale.
Both Scottsdale Coronado and Payson enter the fray with 3-5 records and looking back on seasons that have had ups and downs.
Coronado opened the campaign on a solid note, winning three of its first five games, but since has been on a three-game losing streak.
The Longhorns opened with a 19-12 win over Chino Valley, but since have been unable to put together a two-game winning streak.
With the Horns having lost their last two games, a win over the Dons and another the following week vs. Globe is the season-ending rally the team needs to salvage what can be remembered as a decent campaign.
Of course, the question on most Payson High fans’ minds all this week is, “Will a .500 season record be good enough to earn a berth in the Division IV state tournament?”
A break-even record wouldn’t earn the Horns one of the automatic seeds given to the top three teams in each of Division IV’s three sections.
But a slim chance remains that a .500 record might be worthy of a state spot via the power points, at-large route.
Of course that outcome will depend on what some of the teams now ranked ahead of Payson in power points do in their final two games of the regular season.
Let’s see how the teams measure up.
The Longhorns are currently ranked 19th in power points with 23.7858.
For Payson to have a shot at an at-large state berth, the Horns must move past 18th Ganado (4-4; 24.0592), 17th Parker (4-4; 24.5681) and possibly 16th-ranked Coolidge (5-3; 25.7219).
That’s a tough assignment, but coach Byron Quinlan is confident his team can string together back-to-back wins for the first time this season and end up at state.
“That’s what our goal is,” he said.
The first step in a Payson win tonight is for the players to wipe away the bitter memories of last week’s 27-7 loss to River Valley that Quinlan said had “caused a lot of hurt.”
Once the aches of an “L” are put in the rear view mirror, the Horns must improve on their last defensive effort in which they allowed the Dust Devils to grind out 376 yards on the ground.
Part of River Valley’s rushing success can be attributed, Quinlan said, to poor tackling techniques in which defenders were out of position, did not break down properly, failed to wrap up and tackled too high.
The good news is that defensive coordinator Jake Swartwood has used this practice week to correct the miscues.
All season long, Chance Randall has anchored the Payson defense from his inside linebacker position. Fellow linebacker Clint Harper has also been effective, as have defensive backs Garret Geske and Kyle Raecke.
Tyler Savage missed most of the season with an injury, but his return gives the defense a rush lineman who can put the pressure on the quarterback and control the line of scrimmage.
Offensively, the Horns must crank up a power game that was ground-oriented most of the early season, but later showed sparks of being effective through the airways.
Tailback Aaron Barnes has been the go-to player most of the season with 110-plus carries, but Gunner Goodman and Cade Despain give the Horns a lot of depth at that position.
Fullback Chance Randall has scored four touchdowns, but his real forte might be plowing a path for the trio of tailbacks.
The Horns have a solid backfield, but to move the ball with success tonight the Horns must find a way to control inside linebacker Daniel Triplett (No. 12) and defensive end Omar Santana.
The pair of defensive demons has combined for almost 80 tackles and are key cogs in Coronado’s strategy to control both the ground and airways.
Dons on “O”
Defensively, Swartwood’s bandits must contain quarterback Reid Blakey (No. 10) who is billed as a capable passer and decent runner when called upon or scrambling
Through the airways, the 6-foot, 3-inch, 185-pound signal caller has completed 46 of 105 passes for 751 yards and six touchdowns.
If he has a weakness, however, it might be “picks” — he’s thrown nine interceptions in eight games.
On the ground, Blakey has rushed for 123 yards on 35 carries.
He’s not the workhouse in the backfield, however, those duties are shouldered by running back Trey Huff (No. 22), who has gained 700-plus yards despite tipping the scales at just 150 pounds.
Baylor Cloar (No. 42) is the team’s scoring leader with seven TD’s and has rushed for 489 yards.
On special teams, the Dons have a pair of quality kickoff returners in Anthony Hantzche (No. 11) and D.J. Johnson (No. 23). Hantzche also returns punts averaging 11 yards per return.
If comparative scores mean anything in high school football, which they most often don’t, Coronado and Payson have met one common opponent — Fountain Hills. Coronado lost 33-6 to the Falcons and Payson dropped a 20-14 decision to FH.
While there is much uncertainty over what will unfold following tonight’s 7 p.m. kickoff, there is one guarantee — with Coronado having lost its last three games and Payson dropping its past two, one team is going to break it’s losing streak.