At 4-3 and No. 15 in the Division IV power rankings, Payson’s football team was having a fairly successful season.
But a cloud was looming.
The Longhorns faced perhaps the most relatively difficult schedule over the final three weeks of any team in the state.
On Friday night they experienced round one.
It wasn’t pretty.
Snowflake, the No. 1 team in the power rankings, dominated PHS 57-20.
The Longhorns (4-4) couldn’t stop quarterback Ty Reidhead and the Lobos, who rushed for 471 yards and rolled up 573 yards of total offense in improving to 7-1. Reidhead ran for 175 yards and two long touchdowns (55, 35) on 10 carries. The senior also completed 6 of 8 passes for 102 yards and a 34-yard TD pass.
“We needed to control the line of scrimmage and keep the quarterback in containment,” said Payson head coach Jake Swartwood. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to corral him. He’s a good player and that’s why he runs this team and he runs it well.”
Penalties have been a problem for the Longhorns all season. That was certainly the case in this game as PHS was flagged a season-high 18 times for 151 yards, which is also a season-high.
“Penalties also killed us,” Swartwood said. “The ball possession wasn’t bad tonight. But we need to minimize penalties and hold onto the ball.”
Turnovers actually weren’t a problem for the Longhorns, who were plus-three in that area. Payson fumbled four times, but didn’t lose any of them. The Horns did have one turnover on an interception. Snowflake, meanwhile, lost all three of its fumbles and also had a fourth turnover on a Bowen Sweeney interception.
But everything else went right for the Lobos, who scored on nine of their 13 possessions and didn’t punt once.
Nik Hall ran 11 times for 95 yards and two touchdowns. Trevor McCray ran for 88 yards on nine carries and Lehi Caldwell ran twice for 60, most of that coming on a 59-yard TD run to end the scoring in the fourth quarter in a game the home team led 37-6 at halftime.
One bright spot for the Horns was the running of Wyatt Chapman. The sophomore ran 31 times for 208 yards to spearhead a PHS offense that generated 347 yards from scrimmage. He broke through the line on an 85-yard sprint up the middle just 22 seconds after Reidhead ran 35 yards around left end 2:09 into the second half to cap the opening possession of the second half and give the home team a 43-6 lead.
Senior Miguel Mendoza returned to start at quarterback after missing the previous two games with a knee injury. He completed 7 of 17 passes for 114 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He found Tyus Sarnowski in the end zone for a 17-yard TD in the third quarter. Sarnowski, who left last week’s win over Globe with a hip injury, caught four passes for 61 yards. The senior also returned three kicks for 61 yards.
Mendoza ran seven times for 21 yards and a 7-yard TD to pull the visitors within 7-6 with 5:36 left in the opening quarter.
Blue Ridge handed the Lobos their only loss 38-35. The Longhorns return home for the final time to play host to the 6-2 Yellow Jackets on Friday night. They close the season Nov. 1 at 6-2 Show Low.
Snowflake entertains Show Low this week. The Cougars are 3-0 in Div. IV Section V and can wrap up at least a tie for the section title with a win. A Snowflake victory would open up the possibility of a three-way tie for the crown between the Cougars, Lobos and Yellow Jackets.
It is unclear if the 57 points allowed are a record for Payson. It’s the most points the Longhorns have allowed in the records available at MaxPreps.com, which began in 2004, eclipsing the points allowed in a 56-6 loss at Chandler Seton Catholic on Sept. 9, 2005. PHS lost 55-14 at Fountain Hills on Oct. 4.
Despite the Lobos’ success offensively, Swartwood was upbeat about the fact that the Longhorns played better in the second half than they had in several games this season thanks in large part to switching to a 5-2 defense in an effort to contain the Lobos’ running game.
“We changed our defensive front in the second half and it did help,” the coach said. “We shored up our defensive line and kind of contained them much better. I’m hopeful that a change into that 5-2 is going to put some energy in these boys.
“I feel that this team found themselves in the second half and played with heart, played with pride and played with an attitude that we haven’t seen this year. So I’m hoping they take that into the next eight practices. Hopefully these are the best eight practices of these seniors’ lives.”