There were soothsayers who scoffed at first-year Payson High School football coach Jake Swartwood when he confidently declared in pre-season he was going to do away with the Longhorns’ power option grind-it-out offense and replace it with an “O” similar to the high-octane attack used by the University of Oregon.
Those critics were silenced Friday evening after watching the Longhorns score almost at will in a season-opening 52-28 win over a favored Chino Valley team.
In PHS Stadium, the Longhorns showcased a spread, read-option offense in which quarterback Gunner Goodman took snaps from a shotgun formation and proceeded to totally dismantle a Cougar defense that had no answer for either Payson’s running or passing game.
Payson lit up the scoreboard with 4:37 remaining in the first quarter on R. J. Cox’s 5-yard run on a counter play off right tackle.
Cox’s efforts over the course of the evening drew Swartwood’s praise. “He was making one and two tacklers miss and then picking up more yards after he was hit.”
Payson’s lead, however, was held to 6-0 after the conversion kick was blocked.
The Horns upped their lead to 12-0 just minutes later on a 44-yard TD pass from Goodman to wide receiver Tyus Sarnowski, who last season shared signal-calling duties with Goodman.
On the scoring strike, Sarnowski picked up 21 yards after the catch.
The conversion was good, to give the Horns a 13-0 lead
Chino, running a Wing-T offense that can often be difficult to defend, eventually closed the PHS cushion to 13-8 before Goodman scored on a quarterback sneak with 11:56 remaining. The two-point conversion was good and Payson was out in front 21-8.
At halftime, Payson led 23-8, thanks to a second-quarter safety.
At the end of the third quarter, the Longhorns were in control, leading 45-20.
Although Swartwood expressed his elation with his first win as a varsity head coach and attributed much of the success to the offense, he was unhappy with the play of the defense.
“Giving up 28 points is not acceptable,” he said. “We have to tackle better and learn to line up in the correct positions.”
Swartwood indicated early in the season he would run the 4-3 defense the Horns have used for seven seasons.
However, since Chino was running a Wing-T, the coach put the “D” in a 5-3 in an attempt to shut down the Cougars’ sweeps, bootlegs and waggles.
Also, most of the evening, the defense was aligned in cover 3, or three-deep zone to limit CV passes to short gainers.
The strategy worked for the most part, but breakdowns occurred that Swartwood is attributing to lack of practice time on a full-sized field.
“Last week, we had only one full-hour practice on the field because of the weather,” he said. “We have a lot of things we have to improve and fine tune, but we did have a great effort.”
Among the miscues the Horns suffered through on defense was aligning defenders in the correct positions against a Wing-T offense that was often unbalanced with a tight end and wingback on the same side.
Defensively, the coach lauded Jack Boatman and Eric Vohs for their contributions after coming off the bench to fill in at the stand-up defensive end positions.
The coach also praised Goodman for his offensive efforts saying, “He probably played the best game of his career.”
Goodman, whose father, Ty, was a four-year starting quarterback for the Horns in the mid-1980s, scored on two touchdown runs as did Cox.
Sam Boatman had an 83-yard kickoff return for a TD.
In other Division IV games on Friday, top-ranked Blue Ridge slipped past Mingus 16-13, Buckeye beat Cortez 54-7, Round Valley demolished Alchesay 55-6, Seton hammered Fountain Hills 49-0 and Parker fell to Wickenburg 20-12.
Next up for the Longhorns is an Aug. 31 showdown in Camp Verde against the homestanding Cowboys. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.