A pair of longtime rivals clash today with pride and bragging rights at stake.
The Show Low Cougars enter the fray ranked second in the state thanks to a crushing a 4-0 record.
The Payson Longhorns are 3-1, thanks to a single 14-7 loss to Fountain Hills in a game marred by an injured starting quarterback and 175 yards in penalties against the Longhorns.
The game sets up the latest round of a rivalry that stretches back years — and includes some of the most satisfying upsets in Longhorn history against a team with a fabled gridiron history of its own.
The game starts this evening at 7 p.m. in PHS Stadium.
Injuries could play a role in the outcome, mostly because the ankle injury starting quarterback Gunner Goodman sustained in the Fountain Hills game may sideline him tonight.
Goodman sat out last week’s win over Miami, but at midweek still couldn’t run at full speed.
“He still doesn’t have that quick first step,” said coach Jake Swartwood. “We don’t know if he’ll be ready by Friday night.”
If Goodman can’t play, Swartwood will call upon Miguel Mendoza to pull the trigger in the Longhorns’ spread option offense.
Fortunately, Mendoza started in Payson’s 44-0 shellacking of Miami and the Horns didn’t appear to skip a beat with him at the controls. Although he struggled in the Fountain Hills game when thrust unexpectedly into the fray, his athleticism and smarts came into play last week.
The Horns tonight will also likely regain the services of center/defensive tackle Ty Davis, who did not play against Miami due to a knee injury.
Lineman Zach Tatman will probably miss his second consecutive game due to an injury.
Although the Horns will enter the game as underdogs, Swartwood insists the Horns have a chance to upset the Cougars if they can succeed in three facets of the game.
“Keep our offense on the field to control the clock, win special teams’ battles and minimize penalties,” he said.
Against Miami, the Horns cleaned up their play significantly over what occurred vs. Fountain Hills, incurring just 55 yards in penalties.
Of course, victory depends on winning the bruising battle on the line of scrimmage, which means the players in the trenches must step up.
The Payson lineup boasts a bevy of capable linemen, including Conner Anderson, Jack Boatman, Tanner Savage, Steve Perry, Chemo Vasquez, Kyle Brown and Davis.
It will be their charge to manhandle the Cougars’ defensive front and linebackers.
In preparing for Show Low in past seasons, coaches focused on stopping the Cougars’ aerial circus, which puts up points quicker than Mitt Romney puts his foot in his mouth.
But the strong-armed quarterback who led those pass-happy teams, Rathan Ricedorff, has graduated and his father, Show Low coach Randy Ricedorff, has shifted to a more ground-oriented offense led by running back Dallin Crandell.
The Horn defense might want to key on which way Crandell moves after the snap because the Cougar offense appears to center on him.
Crandell has rushed for a team-high 438 yards on 52 carries and has scored six touchdowns.
Defensively, the Cougars are led by linebacker and captain Cody Tenney who has 24 solo tackles and 21 assists, an average of 11.3 per game.
If the Horn offense is to churn out yardage, some on the offensive line must get a hat on Tenney to keep him off balance and out of the play.