Playoffs Start Tonight For Payson Gridders

No. 1 Snowflake kicks off three-week gauntlet

PHS senior William Youngberg rushes the quarterback during Payson’s win over the Globe Tigers last Friday.

PHS senior William Youngberg rushes the quarterback during Payson’s win over the Globe Tigers last Friday. Photo by Keith Morris. |

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Murderers’ row.

That’s how Payson varsity head football coach Jake Swartwood referred to the final three foes on his team’s schedule earlier this season.

And perhaps the nickname given to the first six batters in the 1927 New York Yankees’ lineup is fitting.

The Longhorns (4-3) close the home schedule against Blue Ridge next week. Coach Paul Moro’s Yellow Jackets are the most successful football program of any size in state history.

Show Low, the team PHS visits in the regular-season finale on Nov. 1, has faced Blue Ridge in three consecutive state title games between 2009-11 and has won two state crowns since Randy Ricedorff took over as head coach prior to the 2007 season.

And Snowflake, which plays host to the Longhorns at 7 tonight, has been pretty darned good, in its own right.

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Payson’s Jesse Barry intercepts a pass in last week’s 67-35 win over Globe.

While they have struggled to beat either Blue Ridge or Show Low over the past decade or so, the Lobos have been just a step behind those squads.

Despite a 38-35 loss at Blue Ridge a couple of weeks ago, the 6-1 Lobos enter tonight No. 1 in the Division IV power rankings. Show Low is No. 4 and Blue Ridge No. 5.

Standing at No. 15 in the Division IV power rankings with the three powerhouses remaining on the schedule, the Longhorns need a win tonight if they are to have any shot at making the state tournament.

“It’s the beginning of our playoff season,” Swartwood said. “If we want to continue to play we need to win this week. So, yeah, it’s a huge game for us.

“This is one of the teams that we circle on our schedule every year and look forward to going out and playing a tough four quarters of football.”

Although it’s been 20 years since their last state championship, the Lobos claimed seven of them from 1982-93, including three in a row from 1991-93.

And they’ve reached the state semifinals twice in the last three seasons and made it at least as far as the quarterfinals the past five years.

Ron Tenney’s Lobos rebounded from the Blue Ridge loss to beat Fountain Hills 42-14 last week at Snowflake. That’s the same team that beat Payson 55-14 a week earlier. The Lobos also beat defending state champion Chandler Seton Catholic 28-23 on the road on Sept. 13.

The Longhorns will have to contain senior quarterback Ty Reidhead, who has rushed for 631 yards and 14 touchdowns and thrown for 722 yards and 11 scores, and senior running back Lehi Caldwell, who is averaging 10.8 yards on 45 carries. But the Lobos have depth in the backfield. Senior Rick Shumway is averaging 7.4 yards on 45 carries, junior Trevor McCray 6.3 yards on 59 carries and senior Nik Hall 5.9 yards on 54 carries.

Shumway and junior Travis Flake are the main receiving threats. Flake has 13 catches for 279 yards (21.5 avg.) and six TDs and Shumway 189 yards and three TDs on 14 receptions (13.5 avg.). Caldwell has caught eight balls for 124 yards (15.5) and one score and junior Porter Black has seven receptions for 150 yards (21.4) and two TDs.

“Their quarterback’s probably their best player,” Swartwood said. “I think their offense runs entirely through him. He likes to keep the ball, run the ball outside.

“At the same time, they’ve got two good running backs that they can go to, and a really good passing game, as well. They’re a well-rounded, well-coached football team.

“I just look forward to a challenge. I know the boys are looking forward to a good game.”

With a game against rival Show Low on the schedule next week, this could be the perfect time to face the Lobos.

Swartwood feels his team is capable of competing with Snowflake.

“They’re a good, fast, quick team,” Swartwood said. “But I feel we’re a good, fast, strong, quick team, as well.”

The fact that senior quarterback Miguel Mendoza is back at practice after a knee injury sidelined him the past two weeks is a big positive for the team. Senior receiver/defensive back Tyus Sarnowski has also been practicing after leaving last week’s 67-35 win over Globe with a hip issue.

Great practices have resulted from those players being back in action.

“We’ve had the best two practices we’ve had in a long time,” Swartwood said on Tuesday night. “Players are intense. They’re focused and they remember what we need to do and they’re ready to do it.”

The coach said everyone should expect the Longhorns to break out some new formations tonight.

“We’ve got some surprises,” he said. “That’s fine if they read it in the paper. They’re not going to be able to prepare for it. It’s different. We’re going to keep it in our pocket and we’re going to break it out Friday night and see what happens with it.”

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