The Miami Vandals, tonight’s homestanding opponent, could be just the prescription the gridiron doctor ordered to cure any infirmity that might be lingering from the Payson Longhorn football team’s 14-7 disappointing loss last week to Fountain Hills.
After all, the Vandals (1-2) don’t invoke much fear around the state, having fallen on hard times the past few seasons. The last time Miami made much noise on the state scene was 1972 when the school won the state championship.
Miami is 1-2 this year having beaten Tanque Verde, 32-3, but falling to Globe, 36-8, and Thatcher, 50-6.
Last year, the Vandals were 2-8, which was preceded by seasons of 6-5, 3-7, 3-6 and 6-4.
Although Miami is struggling, the Horns (2-1) cannot take the team lightly, mostly because PHS will be without three starters who went down in the first half during last week’s loss to Fountain Hills.
Quarterback Gunner Goodman and linemen Ty Davis and Zack Tatmun will sit out.
With Goodman on the sidelines, Miguel Mendoza — normally a wide receiver — is being called upon to pull the trigger on the Longhorn offense.
“Miguel knows the offense as good as any player on the team and will lead the offense well,” predicts coach Jake Swartwood.
With Davis and Tatmun out, Swartwood has had to scour the lineup for additional linemen to replace the two.
He believes he’s found at least one suitable replacement in sophomore Jack Boatman.
“I look for him to step up this week at the center position,” Swartwood said. “He has shown glimpses of greatness and we hope that he becomes more consistent for us on the line.”
With the lineup shaken but now relatively in tact, Swartwood and his staff focused the past week’s practices on correcting the mental errors the players committed in the loss to Fountain Hills.
Among those miscues was 175 yards in penalties that had flags flying for about every infraction that can occur in high school football.
In an effort to reinforce the severity of committing so many penalties, Swartwood had the team doing extra running during the past week’s practices.
“We took them to the hill by the old district office on Monday to help them find their focus,” the coach said.
Swartwood also ratcheted up the work ethic several notches by “running a tighter ship at practice.”
The coach also isn’t shy about shouldering the blame for the mistakes, “Having 175 yards in penalties is obviously my fault and something I can control.”
With a solid week of practice now buoying the team, the coach is convinced the Horns will make up for last week’s lackluster showing with a smart and determined effort this evening (Friday).
“I expect to see the boys come out hungry to get back to their winning ways that the coaches and I believe they are capable of.”
Against Miami, the Horn defense will face an offense very similar to the one the team went up against during an early season win over Chino Valley — with one exception.
“They don’t pull linemen, kind of strange really,” Swartwood said.
In the Wing-T, which Chino and Miami run, both guards normally pull and lead block on sweeps, counters, bootlegs and waggles. On traps, one of the guards normally pulls.
Which means, linebackers receive their keys by focusing on the guards.
Without guards pulling, as Miami does, Payson’s backers, “This week will be reading the near back in the backfield then cross reading if he goes away in motion,” Swartwood said.
The Horns spread option offense will be facing a Chino defense that has shown a rather odd 3-3 stack with five defensive backs normally covering four receivers.
While an unusual defense such as Miami’s can be tough to block for the players in the trenches, it could be a defense Payson can run on if the linemen take control of the line of scrimmage.
A win tonight in Miami would provide the Longhorns with a healthy dose of momentum and confidence when the team plays host Friday, Sept. 21 to a state second-ranked Show Low Cougars team that has closely scrutinized PHS this season by having a scout present at every game.
Kick off this evening in Miami is 7 p.m.