The schedule may be 60 percent complete, but the real season begins at 7 o’clock tonight for Payson High’s football team as the 5-1 Longhorns host No. 4 Snowflake in a pivotal 3A East showdown.
The teams carry the same records into the clash, but Payson finds itself at No. 20 in the 3A power rankings, a whopping 16 spots below the Lobos. That’s because Payson hasn’t faced a team with a winning record and strength of schedule is a key ingredient in the rankings.
That all changes beginning tonight as the Longhorns close the season with a four-week gauntlet packed with teams that have dominated Payson for the last decade.
The Longhorns play at No. 17 Show Low (3-3) next week, at No. 13 Winslow (6-1) on Oct. 25 and close the season at home against No. 6 Lakeside Blue Ridge (5-2).
Payson is 3-26 against Snowflake, Show Low and Blue Ridge in the last 10 years.
The Longhorns’ only win over the Lobos in the last decade was a 7-6 thriller in 2015. That was Payson’s only playoff victory since winning the 2008 state championship.
Snowflake has faced the seventh toughest schedule, according to the rankings. Payson has faced the second easiest. The Longhorns’ first six opponents have a combined record of 5-31 and none have a winning record.
Snowflake’s only loss came against top-ranked Ben Franklin. The Lobos beat No. 8 Safford and are coming off a 29-17 win over then fifth ranked Blue Ridge.
But the Longhorns can’t do anything about their strength of schedule thus far. They’ve done what they needed to most nights — win football games.
And if they continue to do that with a win tonight, they’ll stamp themselves as the team to beat in the 3A East. Payson and Snowflake are the only teams without a loss in the region.
A victory would also give Payson a 6-1 record, which would be its best start since the 2008 team went 14-0.
The Longhorns have outscored opponents 280-87 this season. Throw out a 51-26 loss against Fountain Hills and Payson has dominated on both sides of the football this season. The Horns have posted three shutouts. They might have made it four, but Holbrook scored twice in the final quarter of a blowout game after Bryan Burke sent in the reserves.
And quarterback Trevor Cline is coming off a career-high five touchdown passes against the Roadrunners. Three of them went to standout Jesse Conway, who scored four TDs in all.
But the Longhorns have a team full of contributors.
If they get everyone doing their job tonight and limit the penalties that have hurt them much of the season, they may just get the signature victory they’ve been looking for.
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