The Longhorns gathered on the Fountain Hills football field with the Battle of the Beeline Trophy for a photo.

Payson dominated the host Falcons 31-6 and wanted a photo with the trophy that includes a slab of State Route 87, or the Beeline, as it’s also known.

There was plenty to celebrate as the Longhorns beat their rivals to the south for the second consecutive season following three straight losses to the Falcons and improved to 3-1.

“This is one our boys mark on their calendars,” Payson coach Bryan Burke said. “They’re excited. You can see it right now. This one means a lot.”

Last year, parents and other Payson supporters who ventured down SR 87 to watch the game, did so from the Fountain Hills Middle School parking lot because the school didn’t allow visiting fans in the stadium because of COVID-19 restrictions.

They sat in the Fountain Hills stands this year and got a much better view of the action.

And there was plenty for them to enjoy. The Longhorns scored on five of their seven first-half possessions.

Connor Hatch returned a punt 73 yards for a touchdown just 2:01 into the game.

Travis Christianson intercepted a pass at the Payson 20-yard line to end FH’s second possession.

Two plays after a Payson punt, Hunter Bowman’s big hit on a FH receiver caused a fumble and Nick Dimbat recovered it at the Payson 46. The Longhorns drove 54 yards in six plays with Caleb Marinelli rushing for a 2-yard TD to make it 14-0 with 2:54 left in the first quarter.

The Falcons scored their only points on a 30-yard TD pass with 1:57 left in the opening quarter. A two-point run failed.

Payson responded by driving 57 yards in 10 plays, with Dexter Waterman hitting Hatch for a 5-yard touchdown pass to make it 21-6 with 8:15 left in the half.

Waterman connected with Wyatt Ashton on a 31-yard scoring pass with 4:15 left in the first half to make it 28-6.

Mike Dominguez capped the game’s scoring with a 36-yard field goal as time expired in the first half.

Waterman completed 15 of 22 passes for 148 yards and two touchdowns.

Payson ran for 159 yards with a two-headed rushing attack. Marinelli carried 20 times for 74 yards and Waterman 11 times for 73 yards (6.6 avg.).

Ashton caught six passes for 62 yards and the TD. Hatch caught three passes for 55 yards and one TD.

The Falcons intercepted one pass. But Payson won the turnover battle 3-2. Payson’s Zack Ludtke forced a fumble Ayden Ormand recovered.

Burke said he was pleased with what he saw from the Longhorns. He was especially excited about how Payson’s defense stood strong when the Falcons got their interception to end the opening possession of the second half and marched from the Payson 47 to the 1-yard line.

But the Longhorns kept the home team out of the end zone with the aid of a FH penalty. But, mostly it was a stout defense that kept the Falcons from scoring.

Standout wide receiver Savion Boone lined up to receive the snap in the wildcat formation but the Longhorns stopped him short of the end zone for no gain on his first carry from the 1-yard line. Then came the 5-yard FH penalty, an incomplete pass and no gain on fourth and goal from the Payson 8.

“We got bailed out by that penalty,” Burke said. “But we made some adjustments to their formation there. The kids responded.

“I told the kids how proud I am about their preparation today.”

Burke said much of the adjustments the Longhorns made on both sides of the ball came from the players on the field.

“There were very few times that we’re actually making calls on the field,” the coach said. “The calls, adjustments were automatic. The kids saw what they did and adjusted to it and man, executed so dang well.

“So, I’m really proud of how we executed, I’m proud of how our boys responded in tough times.

“We talk about it all the time how important it is to respond when we give up plays or things don’t go our way — to have some resiliency and to come back and score.

“We had big play after big play when we needed them.”

Christianson and Daltin Stockon both had 10 tackles for Payson. Stockon had a sack. Dimbat had eight and Hunter Stanfield seven with a sack.

After the Longhorns’ defensive stand from the shadow of their own end zone, the Longhorns drove 68 yards to the FH 24 and set up for a 41-yard field goal attempt by Dominguez in the opening minute of the fourth quarter. But the snap went over holder Waterman’s head and the junior fell on the ball at the Fountain Hills’ 41.

A look ahead

The Longhorns close their non-region schedule by traveling to Chinle on Friday. The Wildcats (0-2) have been outscored 108-14.

Payson hosts 4-0 Round Valley (Oct. 1) then 3-1 Snowflake (Oct. 8) on back-to-back weeks as it opens the 3A East gauntlet with two formidable foes.

The Horns face them the final five weeks of the season, with games at 4-0 Show Low (Oct. 15), at 3-0 Winslow (Oct. 22) then at home against 2-2 Blue Ridge (Oct. 29).

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