Payson endured a three-week detour to its first win of the football season.
An accident on SR 87 at Fort McDowell Road on Friday didn’t involve Payson’s bus but resulted in the Longhorns needing to take Bush Highway to get to Fountain Hills.
It was a metaphor for a season featuring one crash after another in an 0-3 start.
But the Longhorns enjoyed a quick and smooth drive home looking like a brand new team with a fresh coat of paint following a 28-14 victory.
Improvement in all facets of the game helped Payson snap both their slow start this season and a three-year losing streak against Fountain Hills and bring home the Battle of the Beeline Trophy.
The Longhorns’ last beat the Falcons 24-0 at Fountain Hills in 2016. Fountain Hills won 31-13 in Payson in 2017, 13-6 at home in 2018 and 51-26 in Payson again last year.
But a Longhorn defense that has shown vast improvement the past two weeks after a very slow start kept the Fountain Hills’ offense off the scoreboard until the home team finally broke through on a 34-yard pass with 2:48 remaining.
The Falcons’ other score came on a 59-yard interception return to break a scoreless tie with 3:10 left in the opening quarter.
Payson’s defense kept the Falcons grounded most of the night. And a Longhorn offense that entered the game with just three touchdowns in three games sustained drives and marched up and down the field all night.
Trevor Cline threw two touchdown passes and ran for another. The senior quarterback often carried multiple defenders on his back as he bulldozed his way for additional yardage.
Caleb Marinelli scored on a 3-yard run midway through the third quarter to put the visitors up 21-7. The Longhorns kept that drive going thanks to two crucial third-down conversions, including one by Marinelli on a late pitch from Cline.
Cline scored on a 3-yard run to tie the game 7-7 with 10:53 left in the first half and connected with Connor Hatch on a 6-yard scoring pass to put Payson ahead 14-7 with 2:44 to play in the half to cap a drive Cline kept alive with a pair of big fourth-down runs, including a huge run on fourth and 13 to give Payson a first-and-goal at the 8.
Devonte Johnson caught a 31-yard TD pass from Cline for Payson’s final score with 8:27 left in the game. That came one play after the Falcons were penalized on a punt that would have given them the ball back. It was the second time on that possession that Payson punted, but kept the ball because of a Fountain Hills penalty.
The Falcons drew four penalty flags for 30 yards, while Payson had just two penalties for 10 yards.
So, Payson lost the turnover battle 4-0 but still won the game.
A key to the Longhorns’ best game of the season was that they had their offensive and defensive lines at full strength after injuries and eligibility issues early this season.
Payson improved to 1-1 in the 3A Metro East Region entering this week’s scheduled game at Scottsdale Coronado. The Dons are 0-1 and haven’t played since opening week, but hoped to return to action this week.
Fountain Hills fell to 2-2 overall and 0-1 in the region. The Falcons’ game against Coronado was canceled, but they were able to schedule a non-region game against Safford to replace it.