Trevor Cline bulled his way up the middle for a 4-yard run that snapped Payson’s touchdown drought at nine quarters on the first play of the fourth quarter on Friday.
The Longhorns’ second touchdown in three games this season and Mike Dominguez’s extra point cut visiting Chandler Arizona College Prep’s lead to 12-7 and put Payson in position for its first win of the season.
But the Knights scored again before Travis Christianson added a 4-yard TD run for the Longhorns with 2:45 left.
And ACP (3-0) recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock.
It was the 3A Metro East Region opener for both teams.
Payson entered the game reeling from back-to-back blowout losses to old 3A East rivals Blue Ridge and Show Low. The Longhorns were outscored 91-7 in those games, with their lone touchdown coming in the second quarter of the 48-7 opening loss at home against Blue Ridge. They lost 43-0 at Show Low.
So the Longhorns needed big improvements on both sides of the all and mostly got it from the defense, which kept Payson in the game.
But the offense needed at least one more score and four turnovers (two interceptions and two lost fumbles) hurt that effort.
ACP turned it over twice, losing its only fumble and Cline intercepted a pass.
Richard Williams ran for three touchdowns to power the Knights, who were coming off a 54-0 route of Ironwood American Leadership Academy and averaging 47 points a game.
The Longhorns were penalized six times for 45 yards, while the Knights drew nine penalties for 100 yards. Five of them were personal fouls, leading to the ejection of one of their players.
The Longhorns travel to Fountain Hills trying to even their 3A Metro East record on Friday. They’re scheduled to play at Scottsdale Coronado next week if the Dons are able to return to the field after canceling three consecutive games following a season-opening loss.
Payson ends the season with home games against Chandler Valley Christian in the region finale on Nov. 6 and a homecoming contest against old 3A East rival Snowflake on Nov. 13.