Spotlight On Payson Tonight, Not Show Low

MORE THAN A GAME

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Every fall for the last six years, I have looked forward to covering the Blue Ridge-Show Low football game.

Those Division IV state powers often wind up meeting in the state playoffs, as well as each regular season.

They played each other in the Class 3A/Division IV state finals three consecutive seasons from 2009-11. One of these two teams has won the title 16 of the last 26 years and at least one of these teams has played in the title game 20 times in that period.

The Yellow Jackets and Cougars renew perhaps the best rivalry in Arizona high school football tonight at Show Low. I believe these are once again the two best Division IV teams in the state and one of them will win the state championship — most likely Show Low.

But I won’t be one of probably 4,000 spectators at Cougar Stadium tonight.

No, I’ll be here in Payson covering the Longhorns’ game against Globe.

And I want to be here.

I want to see how these players respond to back-to-back losses that have dropped them to 3-3.

I want to see how much fight they have left in them.

I expect I’ll discover there’s a lot of it.

I certainly know there’s a lot of talent on this squad.

I’ve covered a lot of talented high school football players in my 28-year career and Senior Tyus Sarnowski is one of the most talented receivers I’ve ever seen. His diving, over-the-shoulder catch in last week’s 55-14 loss at Fountain Hills ranks as one of the most spectacular plays I’ve ever seen. I covered Show Low standout Josh Weeks for four years and Sarnowski’s grab rivaled any I saw him make.

I don’t see how it’s possible to top that effort, but I’m going to make sure I see every snap I possibly can the rest of the season in case he does.

It certainly will help if his buddy Miguel Mendoza can return from the knee injury that sidelined him last week. The classmates were enjoying tremendous success in the passing game before the quarterback got hurt against St. Johns. Head coach Jake Swartwood said he expects Mendoza back this week.

But if he isn’t back, I’ll be interested to see sophomore Brian Skinner’s development at quarterback after being thrust into a starting role last week — his first game as quarterback in two-and-a-half years. His accuracy was understandably off on several passes last week. But he’s sure to improve in that area with practice.

Of course, with a big lead last week, the Falcons pinned the Longhorns’ ears back and put an effective pass rush on the youngster. But even under heavy pressure, Skinner made some good throws.

I’m also interested in watching the development of an offensive line that’s been decimated by injuries so much so that it’s been like a revolving door at nearly every position this season as first-stringers switch positions to fill in for a missing teammate and back ups are forced into starting roles.

I also am looking forward to watching Wyatt Chapman run the ball over the next four games. The sophomore has impressed with his speed and tough running. He’s often fought for extra yardage despite having defenders draped on top of him.

And several players have stood out defensively. Among them is William Youngberg. The senior linebacker appears to have a bright future at the next level.

And he’s not alone. Sarnowski obviously has the talent to play college football. Mendoza’s performance both throwing and running the ball have been impressive and indicate he may wind up on a college team.

Jared Varner and Steve Perry could move on to college ball. In fact, Youngberg, Perry and Varner were all scheduled to make a 10-hour drive from Fountain Hills to Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, Texas for a recruiting visit after last week’s game.

So, while they’ll be bringing in additional stands to accommodate the overflow crowd in Show Low tonight, Longhorns fans will be happy to watch the talented team we have right here in Payson.

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