The Longhorns made several game-changing plays to win a contest they surrendered 502 yards of total offense in against Chino Valley.
And Payson’s football team appeared ready move to 2-0 with a more complete effort in game two at Mesa Eastmark last week.
The Longhorns carried a 10-0 lead into the final quarter but Firebirds quarterback Gianni Mascolino threw three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to lead the home team to a 19-16 comeback victory.
Now, the Longhorns look to play their most complete game of the season when they host unbeaten Tuba City at 7 o’clock tonight.
They have a great opportunity to put it all together against the Warriors of the 3A North. North teams have struggled to go deep in the state playoffs over the decades and Tuba City should face its stiffest test of the young season against the Longhorns.
TC opened with a 48-0 homefield trouncing of Montezuma Creek (Utah) Whitehorse before beating 2A Hopi 44-0 last week.
So, the Warriors have shown an ability to dominate on both sides of the ball.
And Payson gets an opportunity to turn in a 48-minute performance after winning the second half in a 33-20 win over Chino Valley on Aug. 27 and playing well for 36 minutes last week.
They contained Eastmark’s high-powered offense for much of the game. That’s the same offense that scored 42 points in a wild 49-42 loss at Mohave Valley River Valley in its opener.
So, shutting the Firebirds out for three quarters and limiting them to just 19 points, seems like quite an effort.
But the Longhorns suffered their first loss and that’s what they’ll remember about that game.
Payson’s defense dominated the game early as both offenses struggled to score early. The Longhorns led 2-0 at intermission on a second-quarter safety.
The visitors went ahead 10-0 on a 1-yard touchdown run by Travis Christianson and a two-point pass from Dexter Waterman to Connor Hatch with 1:37 left in the third quarter.
The Firebirds (1-1) finally reached the end zone as they answered with a seven-play 58-yard drive capped by a 12-yard TD pass from Mascolino to Kaiden McCarty on the first play of the fourth quarter. The kick was blocked.
Payson recovered a Firebird fumble at the Eastmark 24-yard line to take a 16-6 lead on a 2-yard TD run by Caleb Marinelli with 7:16 to play. The extra-point attempt failed.
The Firebirds kept their comeback hopes alive when Mascolino hit McCarty with a 66-yard air strike to cap a five-play 77-yard scoring attack with 6:01 remaining. Hunter Stanfield blocked the extra-point attempt, as he’s known to do, leaving Eastmark down 16-12.
But the home team recovered a fumble at the Payson 49 with 3:53 unplayed and marched down the field to take the lead on an 18-yard scoring pass by Mascolino with 1:31 to go.
Payson drove to the their own 48 before Waterman’s final pass was picked off and the Firebirds took a knee to run out the clock. The Longhorns lost the turnover battle 3-2.
Waterman completed 13 of 23 passes for 114 yards and two interceptions. The Longhorns rushed 33 times for 121 yards, with Christianson gaining 58 yards on 13 rushes and Caleb Marinelli running 14 times for 56 yards.
Mascolino completed 12 of 32 passes for 209 yards, two touchdowns and one interception by Kellen Mills.
Eastmark was penalized eight times for 65 yards. Payson drew seven flags for 65 yards.