Longhorns Eyeing 2-0 Start

Taren Sarnowski takes a flying leap to bring down a Wickenburg ball carrier in the Longhorns’ season-opener Aug. 30. The Horns won 24-12 and will be in Page tonight.

Taren Sarnowski takes a flying leap to bring down a Wickenburg ball carrier in the Longhorns’ season-opener Aug. 30. The Horns won 24-12 and will be in Page tonight. Photo by Andy Towle. |

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Last week’s season-opening 24-12 victory over Wickenburg left Payson’s football team with a lot of things to work on heading into tonight’s game at Page.

At the top of the list was the poor execution on special teams that resulted in no extra-point conversions on four attempts and a botched punt.

“We practiced 45 minutes on special teams today,” head coach Jake Swartwood said on Tuesday night. “Our punts are perfect now.

“We worked on PAT a ton today and our PAT is perfect, as well. We’ll just spend more time and make sure we’re spending the time there to be ready.”

Despite sophomore Wyatt Chapman’s 170-yard rushing performance, the offensive line also had its share of problems, according to the coach.

“The kids followed roles to a key,” Swartwood said. “There are roles you have and there are roles that break if somebody crosses your space. You’ve got to go with that block and stay with that block.

“Well, they would hit that guy then they’d let him go and go back to the other block they had. So we were getting a lot of free releases in that game.

“Most of the kids on our team are not real football-minded at this point in their lives. So we’ve had to just really spell it out for them. We fixed those simple things. I think that we’re going to see an entirely different offensive line than we saw against Wickenburg,” he said.

Page also enters tonight’s game 1-0 after a 33-6 win at Tuba City.

But there’s little doubt that the Longhorns will be a much bigger challenge for the Sand Devils than the Warriors were.

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The Longhorns’ season-opening victory over Wickenburg (24-12) did not come error-free. The team has spent the time between last week’s game and tonight’s in Page working on some weaknesses.

“We had a good win in Tuba City, but Payson’s gonna be a lot tougher than that,” said second-year Page head coach Jeff Wheatley.

The Sand Devils were 3-7 a year ago.

“We had a tough schedule,” Wheatley said of 2012. “We were really young with a new system and new coaches.”

Despite the upgrade in the quality of the opponent this week, Wheatley said he and the Sand Devils have reason to be excited early in the season.

“We’re another year experienced,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest difference between last year and this.

“And we’ve got size and some strength. We’ll have a big O-line and a big D-line.”

Senior captain Ty Bennett (6-foot-1, 265) is the leader on an offensive line averaging about 260 pounds.

Junior Drew Runyan is the quarterback in an offense that mixes up formations.

“We run a wing, a double wing and wing-T,” Wheatley said.

“(Runyan) plays smart. He’s a good leader. He knows what to do.”

Behind him are senior fullback Talon Cocker and tailbacks Jason Moore (junior) and Andrew Serventi (sophomore). Junior Eddie White and senior Javier Ochoa are the wide outs.

Swartwood said Payson’s defense is ready for the Devils.

“They’re gonna run a couple of different things at us,” the coach said. “They’re gonna run a double-wing, kind of similar to what Wickenburg ran. They’re gonna run a little bit of wing-T at us and a little bit of option. So, (it’ll be) a little bit of everything.”

Senior middle linebacker Steven Christie is the leader of the 5-3 defense that is expected to stuff the box in an effort to try and stop the Longhorns’ running game.

“We’ll probably have seven or eight in the box most of the time,” Wheatley said.

“They have some good speed and we need to be able to contain that and not give up big plays.”

Wickenburg tried the same thing.

“We’re gonna see a very similar defense and we’re gonna see another odd-man front with a nose guard,” Swartwood said. “And they’re gonna play cover three behind us and we’re gonna have eight men in the box again. They’re not as aggressive as Wickenburg, as far as the linebacker positions go. So that should play to our advantage, I think.”

The coach said the Horns are ready to throw the ball if that’s what the defense gives them.

Although Payson picked up most of its yardage against the Wranglers on the ground, quarterback Miguel Mendoza did throw three touchdown passes.

“We have no problem passing the ball,” Swartwood said.

“We just didn’t really want to pass the ball on a wet night like last Friday. We’re gonna drop the ball and the clock’s gonna stop and we’re gonna put ourselves in a game we don’t need to be in with those (Wickenburg) guys.”

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