If the Payson Longhorns are to emerge victorious tonight, Sept. 9, against the homestanding Fountain Hills Falcons, a priority must be to rid themselves of the rash of penalties that have plagued the team in the first two games of the season.
In a season-opening 19-12 win over Chino Valley, the Horns were penalized 12 times.
An obviously disgruntled coach Byron Quinlan called the clash, “the ugliest win I’ve ever been a part of.”
One week later vs. Camp Verde, the penalty situation turned even worse with an unofficial 15 flags thrown against the Horns.
Another team goal vs. FH will be to eliminate the mistakes and miscues that resulted in four interceptions and three quarterback sacks in the loss to Camp Verde.
If the Horns can clean up those errors and eliminate the penalties, they can play on even terms with the Falcons, a Division IV top five-ranked team at the beginning of the season, but then it lost its opener 20-13 to Chandler Seton Catholic.
A week later, the Falcons romped over Scottsdale Christian Academy 38-3.
If FH head coach Jim Fairfield hasn’t changed the offensive scheme he’s shown against Payson in past meetings of the two teams, his “O” will feature a variety of looks including trips (three-receiver sides), double tights, shot gun, empty backfield and some motions.
However, the base offense is similar to the Wing-T with added gimmicks that can make it confusing to defenders.
Particularly tough are the bootlegs and waggles that can leave defensive backs caught between trying to defend the pass or come up for run support.
This year, the Falcons are a veteran team that returns eight offensive starters and six defensive starters from its 2010 team that lost to Blue Ridge in the state tournament quarterfinals.
Individually, Trace Johnson (No. 25) has been the workhorse this season for the Falcons as both a running back and defensive back.
He’s rushed 42 times for 253 yards and three touchdowns.
The Falcons also have a pretty fair country kicker in Ty Blunt (No. 81) who is said to be capable of booting field goals from 40 yards out. He also plays wide receiver and defensive back.
Justin Steuber (No. 14) quarterbacks the Falcons and was named the “Player of the Week” in the loss to Seton.
This season, he’s completed 16 of 23 passes for 206 yards and three touchdowns. He’s also rushed 12 times for 76 yards and a TD.
His versatility through the airways and on the ground means PHS defensive coordinator Jake Swartwood must scheme a plan to contain Steuber and the players must carry the strategy out.
Payson will counter Fountain Hills with a potent backfield that features tailbacks Aaron Barnes and Cade Despain.
Both ripped off nice runs in last week’s loss to Camp Verde.
Lining up in front of the pair is Chance Randall and Clint Harper, rock solid fullbacks that can both block and bull over defenders.
When the Horns go to the airways, quarterback Gunner Goodman has a good arm and some capable receivers in C.J. Nottingham, Josh Oakley and Cale Novack.
Of course for the runners and the quarterback to be successful, they’ll need a strong effort up front from the offensive line that includes Ty Davis, Anselmo Vazquez, Kyle Brown and Tanner Savage, when healthy.
Defensively, the Horns feature a bevy of talented linebackers including Randall, Harper and Despain.
On the defensive line, Shade Eckhardt has played well and safety Kyle Raecke has become a stalwart especially in the win over Chino Valley with three tackles and an interception.
Kickoff this evening in Fountain Hill is at 7 p.m.