A series of special teams blunders and the play of Show Low’s BYU-bound Josh Weeks spelled the demise of the Longhorn football team in a 30-12 loss to the home standing and defending state champion Show Low Cougars.
The miscues included a blocked field goal in the first quarter when both teams were in a scoreless deadlock.
The mistakes continued with a SL safety scored after the ball was snapped over the Payson punter’s outstretched hands. That led to a 9-0 Show Low lead.
Later, Show Low blocked a Longhorn point after conversion kick attempt.
Throughout the game, Weeks, who was an all-state wide receiver last season but this year engineers Show Low’s wildcat offense, paced the Cougars.
The Wildcat is actually a variation of the single wing that has been used by teams at every level, Pop Warner to the NFL.
It is particularly difficult to defend, especially with the trigger being pulled by an athlete as skilled as Weeks.
The “base wildcat” is an unbalanced set with a guard, an eligible tight end, and a slot receiver on one side of center, and a guard, two tackles next to each other, another receiver and quarterback on the other side.
In “speed sweep” the left-hand slot receiver (often a running back) is handed to while sweeping. In “QB counter,” the hand-off is faked and the one taking the snap (usually a running back) runs in the opposite direction with the ball. In “split zone” a basic inside zone run is used with the one taking the snap running directly up field or cutting.
While the formation is a nightmare for players to defend, Payson’s Cale Novack and Chance Randall performed well against it, finishing with 11 tackles each.
Randall also recovered a Show Low fumble that led to a touchdown.
Clint Harper also played well vs. the wildcat with nine tackles.
Throughout the game, PHS defensive coordinator Jake Swartwood switched defensive schemes, sometimes playing a 4-3 and in other situations a 3-4.
“We played well on defense, especially with an athlete like Weeks on the field,” said coach Byron Quinlan.
Offensively, quarterback Gunner Goodman and tailback Aaron Barnes paced the Horns’ ground attack.
Goodman, running rollouts and bootlegs, ran for 125 yards on 19 carries and Barnes picked up 122 yards on 22 attempts.
Randall, playing fullback, scored both PHS touchdowns and picked up 70 yards on eight carries.
In all, Payson ran for 330 yards — one of the best efforts of the season.
Through the airways, Goodman was 4-for-14 for 52 yards and Levi Wilkins completed two of five passes for 24 yards.
Both were intercepted once.
Quinlan said a team goal prior to kickoff was to “control the time of possession and keep Show Low’s offense off the field.”
The strategy was partly successful due to the 300-plus rushing yards and 76 passing yards.
With the loss, the Horns fall to 2-3 on the season and are in danger of falling out of playoff contention.
The team, however, received a huge morale booster when it was announced that its two captains, Tanner Savage and Cade DeSpain, will return this week to prepare for a homecoming clash on Sept. 30 vs. Sedona.
Savage, a two-way starter, has been out all year with a broken ankle, and DeSpain has missed several games due to a deep thigh bruise.
“It will be nice to have both of them back,” said Quinlan. “We’ve been playing shorthanded for a long time.”
Kickoff Friday is at 7 p.m.