Players on this year’s Payson boys soccer team can’t help but dream about the possibilities for the 2021 season.
The Longhorns feature a junior-dominated roster. They lost just three seniors from last year’s 4-10 team.
So, this squad is loaded with experience. And you don’t have to watch them play for long to see plenty of talent. Heck, a glance at the Longhorns’ 4-2 record indicates there’s talent. They’ve already matched last season’s victory total with seven games remaining.
But they displayed another key attribute in rallying for a 5-4 overtime victory over No. 4 Camp Verde on Saturday — heart.
Trailing 4-3 with just six minutes left in overtime to a team that had beaten them 3-0 on Sept. 29, the Longhorns rallied in their home opener at Rumsey Park with two goals to win a thriller and show they’re ready to contend now.
Sophomore Braden Tenney tied it 4-4 in the 94th minute (of 100) and junior Easton Redford followed a minute later with the eventual winning goal when Hunter Lee drilled a ball from midfield that bounced off the keeper’s hands and Redford was there to kick in the rebound.
The defense slammed the door over the final five minutes and the Longhorns avenged the earlier loss and sent an enthusiastic home crowd home happy.
Redford and his teammates weren’t happy with the way they played in the first meeting between the teams in Camp Verde.
“I was bitter, upset; we played terrible,” Redford said.
So, it made the way they played in the rematch that much sweeter.
“Braden scored the first goal to tie it 4-4 and after that I just knew we were winning,” Redford said. “I just hustled as hard as I could every time to get the ball and I scored and I can’t even describe the feeling.”
His goal capped a wild game.
“It was definitely a rollercoaster of emotions today,” Redford said.
Payson stood at No. 8 in the rankings as of noon on Friday, before the win over Camp Verde, which should move them up.
The Longhorns’ only other setback came in a tight 2A Central battle with No. 1 Chino Valley two days earlier. They lost 2-0, showing they can compete with anyone. The Cougars are 7-1 overall and 1-0 in the region. It was Payson’s first loss in three 2A Central games.
Saturday marked Payson’s third try at a home opener this season. They were scheduled to host Flagstaff Northland Prep on Sept. 24 but the game was postponed because that school postponed all fall sports following the boys soccer team’s season-opening game and only recently resumed competition. The teams were scheduled to make that game up at Rumsey Park on Monday (Oct. 12).
Ash Fork traveled to Payson for a game on Oct. 1 but it was canceled because the officials failed to show up. That game has not been rescheduled.
The Longhorns host Rancho Solano Prep at 6 p.m. on Wednesday in the rematch of a region game Payson won 5-0 on the road on Oct. 5.
The four region champions earn automatic berths in the eight-team state tournament, with the other four teams qualifying based on the power rankings. The first round (quarterfinals) is set for Nov. 4 at the high seed. The semifinals are Nov. 6 at Scottsdale Coronado and the finals at Coronado on Nov. 7.
Payson jumped on top early against Camp Verde as Juan Hernandez scored on a penalty kick in the fourth minute.
Junior Esgar Reyes made it 2-0 in the 12th minute when he weaved his way through a pair of defenders and left both lying on the turf as he drilled a kick from 10 yards out past the netminder and off a defender.
The Cowboys got on the board in the 16th minute and tied it 2-2 on a goal from point-blank range in the 23rd minute.
But sophomore Ismael Urquiza scored on a shot just below the crossbar and just out of the goalkeeper’s outstretched hand put Payson back on top 3-2 just a minute later.
The visitors tied it on a penalty kick in the 57th minute but goalkeeper Jesus Hernandez kept them from scoring again over the final 22 minutes of regulation to send the game into the two 10-minute overtime periods.
Camp Verde went ahead 4-3 in the 88th minute (eighth minute of the first overtime) before the Longhorns rallied for the victory in the second extra session.
Lee is one of the team’s two seniors. He didn’t play soccer last year but did as a sophomore. The other senior, Eddie Tellez, is in his first varsity season.
The Longhorns don’t get a rematch with Chino Valley and knew they needed to beat the Cowboys if they wanted to make a move in the all-important power rankings.
“We came off a big loss (Chino Valley) and we dropped down in the rankings and we’ve got to get ourselves back up so our team can keep playing,” Lee said. “It feels pretty good with our home crowd and everybody cheering, I feel like the adrenaline was up and everybody was working as a team.”