After opening the football season with a homecoming victory over Chino Valley, the Longhorns travel to Mesa tonight to take on an Eastmark team that should prove to be a big challenge.

The Firebirds (0-1) showed off a potent offense in dropping a 49-42 shootout at Mohave Valley River Valley.

Sophomore Davien Celaya exploded for 159 kick return yards and junior Gianni Mascolino threw for four touchdowns with junior Austin Johnson catching seven passes for 108 yards and 2 TDs. Eastmark opened in the fall of 2019 and went 2-6 in its first season of varsity football last year. They won’t feature their first senior class until next year.

Kickoff is set for 7 o’clock.

CV coach: ‘We outplayed Payson’Second-year Chino Valley coach Michael Gilpin was encouraged by the performance of his team in last week’s 33-20 Payson win.

“The difference is Payson is a program with tradition and knows how to win and Chino Valley is not and we’re trying to get there. No disrespect to Payson, it’s a great program, but we clearly outplayed them. But they have the winning pedigree and we don’t.

“So, this is something that we’re building to but we’re just not there yet.”

The Cougars amassed 502 yards of total offense in the loss, but the Longhorns made more of the crucial plays that determined the outcome, including a blocked punt, blocked field goal and blocked extra point by Hunter Stanfield, who also pressured CV quarterback Jayden Smith, resulting in Gabe Hilgendorf’s 94-yard pick six that broke a 20-20 tie in the third quarter.

The Cougars haven’t posted a winning season over the past 10 years. They went 2-5 last year and finished fourth in the 3A Metro West with a 1-3 record.

“Our boys have really been working hard all summer, showing up at the crack of dawn in the weight room and they didn’t fold. Even in the face of adversity, they battled the entire time, so I’m very proud of that.”

It was the first meeting between the teams since 2012. Payson won that game in Payson 52-28. Last week’s victory was the seventh straight for the Longhorns against the Cougars since the 2007 season.

Contact the reporter at kmorris@payson.com

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