Jake Swartwood, who didn’t take over the reins of the Longhorn football program until one month before the 2012 season kicked off, has led the team to a 6-4 record and a berth in the Division IV state tournament.
Last spring, Graham Ellison was tapped Payson High’s next football coach, replacing Byron Quinlan.
But after only about a week as head coach, Ellison stepped down citing “health reasons.”
With practically no time to begin a coaching search, Swartwood — who was going to be an assistant to Ellison — stepped up and took over head coaching responsibilities.
With Swartwood now paving the way, the Horns advance to the Division IV state showdown as a No. 13 seed in the 16-team tournament that kicks off Nov. 2 at the home site of the highest seed.
Since Payson is paired against No. 4 Snowflake in the first round, the Horns must travel to Lobo land where the blue and white are notoriously tough.
The Horns nailed down the state invitation by winning their final two games of the year — 28-26 vs. Coronado on Oct. 19 and 24-14 against Globe in a regular season-ending clash played Oct. 26, senior night in PHS stadium.
Although Globe lost to the Horns, the Tigers are going to the state tournament, but as the 16th and final seed and will have the unenviable task of playing No. 1 ranked and undefeated Blue Ridge.
In the win over the Tigers, Swartwood credited the offensive line of Kyle Brown, Conner Anderson, Steve Perry, Chemo Vazquez and Tanner Savage for opening holes for PHS running backs and protecting quarterback Gunner Goodman when he was called upon to pass.
“We had a good night offensively, running for 260 yards and passing for 270,” Swartwood said.
An individual highlight of the game was the debut of freshman Wyatt Chapman who broke off a 60-yard TD run and carried two other times for about 40 yards.
Dean Harpe also drew praise from Swartwood for his TD contribution and also his all-around play as a wide receiver and cornerback.
Harpe’s recent hard-nose play has earned him the nickname “Titanium” from coaches and players. Previously he was known as “Glass” because of the many injuries he incurred.
Defensively, the Horns faced a Globe team that lined up with two tight ends, three running backs and seldom, if ever, passed.
“They’ve only thrown about 12 times this season,” said Swartwood.
The Tigers did throw five passes against Payson, but three were intercepted and another went for a TD.
As a run-only team, Globe called upon senior Johnny Renteria for most of the ball carrying duties.
In Globe’s 52 rushing attempts, he carried 43 times, pilfering the Horn “D” for 201 yards and a touchdown. As a team, Globe rushed for 207 yards.
The Horn defense was, however, to keep the Tigers at bay most of the game, holding Globe to seven points until the final minutes when the team tacked on a touchdown against Longhorn reserves.
Game time Friday in Snowflake is 7 p.m.