SHOW LOW — This one was closer.
But not close enough for the Longhorns.
Payson was more competitive than it was in a 56-7 loss at Show Low in the regular-season finale a week earlier in a return trip to the Cougars’ home field in the opening round of the Division IV state football playoffs on Friday night. But a 39-6 loss to the top-seeded Cougars (9-2) still knocked the No. 16 Horns out of the tournament.
A fourth consecutive loss saddled PHS with a 4-7 record.
The Cougars led 20-0 after one quarter, 32-0 at halftime and 39-0 through three quarters before Payson scored the only touchdown of the fourth quarter when Dean Harpe broke into the end zone on a 25-yard hook-and-ladder play. Quarterback Miguel Mendoza passed to Tyus Sarnowski, who lateraled back to Harpe, who completed the play for the Longhorns’ only score.
Show Low advances to the quarterfinals to play No. 9 Safford (9-2) at 6 p.m. Saturday at Show Low. The Bulldogs outscored host No. 8 Goodyear Estrella Foothills 35-14 in the second half to overcome a 28-14 halftime deficit and pull out a wild 49-42 victory on Friday. It was 28-23 entering the fourth quarter, where Safford outscored the 7-4 Wolves 26-14.
Brice Rova and Jarom Fawcett both scored three touchdowns to lead the Cougars over Payson. Rova ran nine times for 134 yards and two touchdowns and also caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Colby Maxwell, who completed 10 of 13 passes for 134 yards and four TDs against one interception. He connected with Fawcett on three scoring passes totaling 75 yards.
Payson had four turnovers. Fawcett and Rusty Allen each had an interception for the Cougars, while Rova and Steffen Koury had fumble recoveries. Harpe had an interception for the Horns.
The turnovers weren’t the only thing that hurt PHS. There were also more of the costly penalties that plagued the Longhorns all season.
“I’m happy that it was more competitive,” Payson head coach Jake Swartwood said. “I’m not happy about the turnovers we had. And I’m not happy about the penalties. We’ve tried punishing those kids, (making them) run together and doing all these other things.
“But again, we had holding calls on big plays that would have helped us. It seemed like we’d get a first down at a crucial point in the game and it would come back on a hold or a personal foul away from the ball or something. Unfortunately, it’s the same kids that we’ve had the entire year. We talked before the game and on Thursday, also. The goal was to minimize the penalties and minimize our turnovers and allow us to have a chance in the game come the second half or third quarter.”
The home team capitalized on confusion on the part of Payson’s defense to take charge with three first-quarter scores. The Cougars scored two TDs on a mix-up in the Longhorns’ coverage, then tacked on another touchdown after recovering a fumble, thanks in large part to a big fourth-down conversion.
“We gave up three quick scores on blown coverages,” Swartwood said. “And it was amazing that a kid that was a two-year starter at cornerback blows a cover-three call on both of them. That’s our base defense and he’s for some reason rolled up playing cover-two.
“So that was 14 points really, really quickly. And they had another one on the turnover Wyatt had. It was just his third fumble of the season. He fumbled it to them and then they came down and ran the ball in for a score after we held them on a third down and they converted on fourth-and-12. Then the next play was a touchdown. It was discouraging a little bit.”
But there were positives for the Longhorns.
“The boys stuck with it,” Swartwood said. “It was a hard-fought game. We had several people come up to us from the Show Low side and say, ‘that was a much better football game this time around.’
“So that was comforting to know and we shared that with the boys on the ride back. And the boys felt good, too — not good about losing and not good about the season being over for them, but I think they were proud of how they played.
“Last week, I don’t think Show Low felt like they were in a game. And this week, they were in a game. They knew they were in a game. They were beat up a little bit.”
Chapman closed a standout sophomore season with another 100-yard rushing game.
“Wyatt had a hell of a game, again,” Swartwood said. “He probably rushed for over 150 yards. They had two shoelace tackles on him on runs that were about 40 yards. If he breaks one of those, Tyus catches his pass (he dropped a TD pass) and we only have two turnovers instead of four, we’re looking at a 21-39 game, which would have been good for us.”