Payson’s football team could use a win tonight after last week’s disappointing 28-21 loss at Parker dropped the Longhorns to 2-1. But they’ll have to get past the biggest school in Division IV to get that victory.
Glendale had the largest enrollment of any school in the division when the count was taken last fall — 1,673. Payson had 750 students on the 40th day of classes.
The Cardinals would still be playing a Division III schedule like they had the previous two years if the Arizona Interscholastic Association hadn’t granted their appeal to drop down a division in football because they weren’t competitive against the larger schools. Glendale has struggled mightily on the gridiron. The Cards were 0-10 last season and haven’t won more than two games the past five years, or more than three the past six years.
They enter tonight’s 7 p.m. contest at Payson with a 1-2 record and looking to put together a two-game winning streak. The Red Birds opened with a 20-0 loss to Apache Junction and fell 28-14 at Scottsdale Coronado before pulling out a 7-6 decision at home against Phoenix Cortez last week.
As is usually the case with schools with a student body the size of Glendale, the Cardinals feature a number of large players.
“Glendale’s huge,” said Payson head coach Jake Swartwood. “I think Glendale will be really competitive (in Division IV). They have something like 2,000 kids that they get to pull from. And you can see it in their size. They’re giants.”
So expect a battle of size vs. quickness.
“That makes for an interesting game plan for us,” Swartwood said. “We’re an undersized team that relies on quickness. We plan to just go out there, use our speed, use our quickness and use our strength to overcome their size and their strength.”
The coach said the Horns are no stranger to the kind of defense they see tonight.
“I think we’ve got a pretty good handle on what they’re going to do,” Swartwood said. “They’re going to run the spread most of the time and run another odd-man front, which we’ve seen for four weeks now. We’re used to blocking it. We’re used to blocking teams that are going to send linebackers blitzing every time.”
The Horns will look to speedy sophomore Wyatt Chapman to continue his strong start to the season. The tailback rushed for 219 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries last week.
Although the Cards will look to contain Chapman and the running game, they will not overlook a Payson passing game that has also been explosive in the early going. Quarterback Miguel Mendoza and receiver Tyus Sarnowski have combined for five touchdown passes and Mendoza has seven TD passes overall.
“I expect them to put a lot of pressure on our quarterback and to try to take the run away and force us to pass, which is fine,” Swartwood said. “Parker didn’t do that as much as we expected them to. They kind of gave us a little bit more run and tried to double-team Tyus.
“We expect Glendale to give us some double-team looks over the top on Tyus, again. But we think we can pass the ball effectively during that and run the ball effectively against their fronts.”
Injuries have decimated the Longhorns’ offensive and defensive lines, forcing the coaching staff to make multiple position changes. Although several players are still injured, the team is healthier than it’s been all season heading into game four, according to Swartwood.
“We’re as close as we have been to full strength,” the coach said. “We’re excited to have all the guys back from injuries.”
The PHS schedule is much more difficult the second half of the season with five Division IV Section V games looming, including heavyweights Snowflake, Blue Ridge and Show Low to close the regular season. And Division V power St. Johns will be no pushover in next week’s homecoming game.
So the Longhorns certainly could use a win against the Cardinals.
“This is a very critical game for us,” Swartwood said. “To come in and really take the next step and go to a 3-1 team (would be big), because it does not get any easier from this point forward. It gets much more difficult.
“So we need to take care of business where we can. And we feel that Glendale’s a team that we’re going to have to be in a dogfight against and fight to win. But we think we can win this game.”