Tyus Sarnowski lingered on and around Longhorn Field on Friday night.
The game had ended 20 minutes earlier, but the senior didn’t want to leave.
Most of his teammates had already headed for the locker room to shower off the stink of a crushing 63-6 thumping by Blue Ridge. But the standout wide receiver-defensive back wasn’t ready to walk off his home field for the final time before absorbing every bit of the experience he could.
“It’s the last time I’ll see these lights,” he said as he finally made his way across the track surrounding the field. “It’s sad.”
The feeling would have been the same no matter what had just occurred on the field. Payson’s football players were closing the book on their final home game of the season. And for the seniors, that was going to be difficult.
Of course, there would have been joy to ease the pain of moving on if the Longhorns won the final game. It would have been a major upset to knock off Blue Ridge, which entered at No. 5 in the Division IV power rankings. But it didn’t happen. No, the Yellow Jackets (7-2) dominated the game, scoring on nine of their first 10 possessions in a 63-6 blowout.
It ranks as one of the worst defeats in Payson history, although records are incomplete. It is the most points the Longhorns have surrendered in records available from MaxPreps.com dating back to the 2004 season, eclipsing the
total allowed in last week’s 57-20 loss at Snowflake. The 57-point defeat tops the margin in a 54-0 loss at Cottonwood Mingus on Oct. 5, 2012.
It appeared that the home team might make a game of it when the Longhorns (4-5) drove 69 yards on a 10-play drive that ate up 5:06 on their second possession. Senior Miguel Mendoza found Sarnowski in the right corner of the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown pass that cut Blue Ridge’s lead to 7-6 with 5:22 to play in the first quarter.
But Mendoza’s two-point pass fell incomplete after the holder tried to make something positive happen after snagging a high snap. Payson didn’t score again.
Brennan Schimmel returned the ensuing kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown and the Yellow Jackets were rolling.
Schimmel scored three touchdowns for Blue Ridge. He broke a scoreless tie by intercepting a tipped pass by Mendoza on the third play from scrimmage and returning it 34 yards for a score. He also snagged a 24-yard TD pass from Spencer Hall to give the visitors a 28-6 lead with 3:08 to play in the first half.
Schimmel had 136 all-purpose yards, also catching three passes for 46 yards.
Nolan Cook scored four touchdowns for Blue Ridge. He ran for 114 yards and three TDs (28, 13, 20) on 11 carries and capped the scoring by returning a blocked punt 40 yards for a touchdown with 10:10 remaining. His 20-yard scoring run to cap the first possession of the second half gave the Jackets a 49-6 lead and starting a running clock with 9:22 left in the third quarter.
Poor tackling creates problems
Payson head coach Jake Swartwood thought his team should have been able to hang with the Yellow Jackets.
“The first quarter we had a drive that was probably six-and-a-half minutes long running four different plays and driving the ball down their throat,” he said. “And it was effective. I think we faced one (it was two) third downs during that time.
“And then for some reason they just went away. (The Yellow Jackets) didn’t switch their front. Nothing changed. They ran the same defense they ran in the first quarter the entire game. And we just didn’t execute anymore.”
And on the defensive side of the ball, Swartwood said his players simply didn’t do what they’d been taught to do.
“Cook’s a great player,” he said. “He runs the 100. He is a good athlete. He’s a strong kid. But I think poor tackling led to a lot of his stuff. When we watch the film we’re gonna see that we hit him probably 70 percent of the time in the hole, or 70 percent of the time with him within 3 yards of the (line of scrimmage) and we just didn’t tackle.
“We’ve been preaching tackling low and tackling at the legs because it works. I think you see some of our kids are listening and doing the appropriate things at times when they’re asked to, but some of them aren’t.”
The bruising back spearheaded a Blue Ridge offense that amassed 376 yards from scrimmage. The Jackets rushed for 253 yards on 28 carries.
Hall completed 7 of 8 passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns. The Jackets didn’t have a turnover. Payson had three.
The Longhorns had 190 yards of total offense, rushing 41 times for 166 yards. Mendoza was 2 of 8 for 24 yards passing with a touchdown and an interception.
Sophomore Brian Skinner led the running game with 77 yards on 14 carries, while classmate Wyatt Chapman was held to 59 yards on 20 totes. Skinner had 158 all-purpose yards. He also returned four kicks for 81 yards.
Sarnowski had both of the PHS receptions for 24 yards and returned four kicks and a punt for 67 yards.
The Longhorns’ fourth loss in five games left them 4-5 with only a game at Show Low (7-2) on Friday remaining. The Cougars are 4-0 in the division.
Blue Ridge closes the regular season at home against Fountain Hills on Friday.