St. Johns’ football team put on a clinic in it Friday night at Payson.
The Redskins threw in a lesson on comebacks and another on spoiling homecomings.
The Longhorns got off to a strong start but couldn’t sustain their success as St. Johns rallied from a 19-6 first-half deficit for a 33-19 victory in front of the large homecoming crowd at Longhorns Stadium. The Redskins scored three second-half touchdowns and shut out the home team in the final two periods to improve to 5-0. Payson fell to 3-2, entering a formidable second-half schedule.
“They had some big stops on third down,” Payson coach Jake Swartwood said of the Redskins. “Our kids fought hard. I don’t think it was a question of effort or of not putting everything you have into the game.
“We played a good football team tonight and, in the second half, they just played better than we did. It was a tale of two halves. We came out very good in the first half and ran the ball effectively and passed the ball effectively. Turnovers went our way in the first half.”
SJHS relied on its ground game to hand head coach Mike Morgan his 291st career victory. The Division V Redskins rushed 54 times for 289 yards. St. Johns had the ball for 28:37, including 17:22 in the second half. PHS, meanwhile, had the ball for 19:23 and only 6:38 after intermission. The Horns picked up just four first downs in the final two quarters, while the Redskins had 12 of their 20 first downs in the final 24 minutes.
Morgan said his players are confident of their ability to win the second half every week thanks to the time they spend conditioning.
“We condition heavy every day at the end of practice Monday through Wednesday and that was the difference,” he said. “We knew we could come back and win this game if we could just negate the fumbles.
“I’m proud as heck, tickled pink to win after being down 19-6 against a good 3A (Div. IV) opponent. And we’re a small 2A (Div. V) school. We wanted to win and they came back and won.”
Junior Sherod Bride ran 22 times for 91 yards and three touchdowns to lead the way. He scored a pair of fourth-quarter TDs that put the game away. His 9-yard run with 7:36 remaining capped an eight-play, 60-yard drive set up by an Eli Frazier fumble recovery. He ended the scoring on a 2-yard dive with 45.9 seconds on the clock to cap a 10-play, 50-yard possession that lasted four minutes.
Quarterback Riley Raban was extremely effective running the option. The junior caught the Longhorns off guard several times, faking the handoff up the middle, then running outside for big gains. He carried eight times for 84 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown run with 10:21 to play in the second quarter to make it 12-6 and cap a four-play, 52-yard drive after PHS scored a pair of first-quarter TDs.
Senior fullback Garrett Davis added 76 yards on 16 totes.
St. Johns actually scored the game’s final four touchdowns as Bride’s 1-yard plunge with 28.6 seconds left in the first half capped an eight-play, 48-yard drive that pulled the visitors within 19-12. Jake Zieler set that up with a 34-yard kick return following a 16-yard TD pass from Miguel Mendoza to Tyus Sarnowski that gave PHS a 19-6 lead with 3:58 left in the second quarter.
And things started so well for the Longhorns after the Redskins ended their first possession with an interception on the game’s third play from scrimmage. The home team bounced back to score two touchdowns in a 20-second span midway through the opening quarter.
Wyatt Chapman broke a scoreless tie on a 45-yard run with 5:28 left in the first quarter. Mendoza found Sarnowski open for a 20-yard TD pass after the Horns took over at the SJHS 15, thanks to a fumble by the Redskins on the kickoff. An extra-point kick following the first TD was blocked and a two-point run attempt after the second score came up short.
SJHS sustained the momentum gained on the late first-half score by emerging from the halftime locker room to march 64 yards in 13 plays and chew six minutes off the clock before McKell Bradshaw hauled in a 10-yard TD pass from Raban with 5:53 to play in the third quarter. Raban ran for two points to give the Redskins a 20-19 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Zieler set that drive up with a 24-yard return of the second-half kickoff. He had 88 yards on three kick returns.
Chapman, Payson’s speedy sophomore, gained 140 yards on 24 carries. But the rest of the team combined for just 16 yards on 10 carries.
SJ had 321 yards of total offense, while PHS had just 214 yards from scrimmage. Mendoza was 5 of 13 for 58 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The Horns also lost a fumble. And it was a big one.
Trailing 20-19, PHS forced a punt that traveled just 26 yards and took over at its own 46-yard line with 11:46 to play in the game. The Horns gained six yards on third-and-2, but the ball came out and Eli Frazier recovered it for the Redskins at the St. Johns’ 40 with 10:40 remaining.
David Wiseman’s 31-yard run on first down was wiped out by a St. Johns’ penalty. But Davis burst through the middle of the line for a 25-yard gain to midfield on the next play and the Redskins had the ball at the PHS 35 when a 15-yard penalty for a horse collar tackle was tacked on. Bride capped the seven-play drive with a 9-yard run that made it 26-19 with 7:36 on the clock.
“In the second half, turnovers went their way,” Swartwood said. “We had a good stop by the defense. Then we had a costly fumble.”
Swartwood said the Horns weren’t trusting their teammates when they kept committing to the fake handoffs up the middle, allowing Raban room to run outside the tackles.
“Our defensive ends, our outside linebackers just kept getting sucked in by the constant dive,” he said. “They run three plays and they run them efficiently. He’s a hall of fame coach for a reason. He found our weakness and exploited it better than we found their weaknesses and exploited them.”
PHS was penalized 10 times for 85 yards and SJH nine times for 60 yards. St. Johns fumbled twice in the first half, losing both of them.
The Horns now set their sights on Division IV Section V play. They begin that five-game stretch to end the regular season at Fountain Hills at 7 p.m. Friday. They entertain Globe next week then face a three-week challenge at Snowflake, at home against Blue Ridge and at Show Low.