Longhorn Bubba Neilsen (left) competes for the ball with a Blue Ridge Yellow Jacket during a hard-fought match, Tuesday, Oct. 2 at Rumsey Park. The Horns travel to Camp Verde today (Friday) to take on the Cowboys at 6 p.m.
Photo by Andy Towle.
The mystique of the Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets, which has been spurred by winning three consecutive state championships, going on a 57-game winning streak and scooping up Max Prep’s No. 1 national ranking, is DOA.
The corpse sucked in its last breath of life on Sept. 13 in Lakeside after the Payson Longhorns played the juggernaut Jackets to a 2-2 dead knot, ending BR’s state-record winning streak.
Further evidence that Blue Ridge’s inscrutability is no longer alive and well surfaced Oct. 2 at Rumsey Park after the Longhorns once again tied BR, this time by a 0-0 score.
“I told the boys (Blue Ridge) puts their shorts on one leg at a time just like we do,” said coach Chris Avakian. “Our players know now that they can play with Blue Ridge.
“In fact, I think we can beat them.”
The Longhorns could have the chance to prove their coach’s prediction correct if the two rivals eventually meet in the postseason playoffs that begin Oct. 26 and culminate with the championship game on Nov. 3.
Avakian contends Payson was able to forge out two ties against a team no other school in the state has been able to contend with mostly because of talent.
“We have the athletes,” he said. “Ours are as good as theirs.”
In particular, he points to defenders Logan Morris, Noe Vega, Felix Cruz and Trevor Clawson who stymied the Yellow Jackets offense throughout both ties.
The coach also lauds goalkeeper Steven Tubbs, who once gave up soccer for football only to change his mind and return to soccer, as instrumental in fending off every BR shot attempt.
In addition to the efforts of the defense, the team cause received a boost from others on the roster.
“We had some offensive players come in to play defense,” Avakian said. “We were mixing it up.”
Although the offense is anchored by four-year starting forward/striker Guillermo Lopez, one of the most polished players in Division IV, Payson could not score on any of its 10 quality shot attempts.
With the tie, the Longhorns stand 4-2-3 for the year and are currently No. 7 in power points rankings among the 23 teams in D-IV.
At press time, however, the Payson vs. Blue Ridge tie had not been posted on the Arizona Interscholastic Association power points Web site.
“When it is, I expect us to move up,” Avakian said.
The Longhorns will now wrap up the 2012 regular season with five consecutive road games that includes an Oct. 9 visit to Eagar/Springerville to take on the 3-4 Round Valley Elks.