When preseason football practices kicked off in early August, the well-regarded Fountain Hills Falcons appeared to be one of the most formidable foes on the Longhorns’ 2012 schedule.
While that may still be true, FH — which was Division IV eighth-ranked at the onset of the campaign — has fallen on hard times, prompting fans and boosters to wonder if the team is as good as originally projected.
Questions about the Falcons’ prowess arose after two early season lopsided losses.
On Aug. 24, Fountain Hills fell 49-0 to Chandler Seton Catholic and on Aug. 31 the Falcons dropped a 31-6 decision to Scottsdale Christian Academy, a Division V school.
Conversely, Payson was not ranked in any preseason polls and was widely considered an also ran partly because the team was coming off a 4-6 season and most of the top players from that team graduated last spring.
But lo and behold, the Horns have been the surprise of D-IV posting a 2-0 record with a season-opening 52-28 win over Chino Valley and a come-from-behind 41-21 victory at Camp Verde on Aug. 31.
If today’s Payson vs. Fountain Hills game, which kicks of at 7 p.m. in Longhorn stadium, had been played as a season opener, the Falcons would have been huge favorites to spank the Horns.
But with PHS sporting a 2-0 record and FH now 0-2, fans are predicting Payson, under first-year coach Jake Swartwood, can remain unbeaten for another week.
To do so, the Payson defense must clamp down on Falcon coach Jim Fairfield’s Wing-T attack that is similar to the one Horn players defended in the win vs. Chino Valley.
But Fairfield doesn’t shy from the abandoning the traditional Wing-T to show trips (three receiver sides) in which he runs powers and bubble screens.
Fairfield appears to run at least four separate formations this season including double tights.
Senior quarterback Justin Steuber engineers the Falcon offense as he did last season passing for 1,369 yards and 14 touchdowns and running for 343 yards and four scores.
Tailback Andrew Capirchio should start tonight at tailback and in the FH secondary.
The Falcons are coming off a 7-3 record last season that ended with a 21-17 loss to Buckeye in the first round of the playoffs.
Off that team, 11 starters returned this season.
Swartwood has watched Fountain Hills game films vs. Seton and Scottsdale Christian prompting him to prepare for the Falcons with a 4-3 defense that former PHS defensive coordinator Kenny Hayes ran frequently.
Although the scheme is called a 4-3, it often appears to be a 6-2 formation.
Personnel wise, Swartwood is hoping inspired play from nose guard Tanner Savage will help shut down the Falcon “O.”
The good news in the Horn camp is the team will be back at full strength after missing three starters last Friday due to ineligibilities and injuries.
Also, Swartwood will have the big three of R. J. Cox, Sam Boatman and Gunner Goodman available to unleash on the Falcons.
Cox, a tailback, has 217 yards rushing and Boatman a “Z” or wingback has 87 yards rushing and 60-plus receiving.
Goodman, the quarterback, has rushed for 227 yards and thrown for 115.
In the trenches, Swartwood has praised Conner Anderson, Kyle Brown and Mike Magliano for their contributions.
Magliano is listed on the junior varsity roster but has seen action as a varsity reserve.