Fast start propels Payton to season-opening win

Photos by Donald Crocker/OSA

By Michael Wojtychiw

Coming off of a successful 8-3 year, one that saw it make the state playoffs for the 11th consecutive season a state playoffs was held, Payton was looking to keep on its winning ways when it opened the year with Hubbard.

To make things worse for the Greyhounds and the Grizzlies, the game was pushed back two days from Thursday evening to Saturday evening, because of the heat. To make things worse for the Grizzlies, they were without standout Charlie Newton, who graduated and is now playing at the Ivy League’s Columbia University, as well as a couple of other regulars who are out with injuries.

None of that mattered for the home team Payton as it rolled to a 34-6 win at Lane Stadium.

“We had a lot of younger guys play really well across the board,” Payton coach Craig Knoche said. “I thought for a Week 1 game, that was pretty clean across the board except for that stretch in the third quarter that gave them a short field.

“Right now, we don’t know what type of team we’ll be. Last year we had a guy that’s playing Division I football right now, so you’re going to throw more. This is high school football, it’s safer to run than to throw. But we were effective throwing off the run game, so we’ll take it.”

Thankfully for the Grizzlies, they had sophomore Sam Merrill.

The sophomore running back started his first game on Saturday, finishing with three touchdowns and 80 yards rushing, as well as a big 3rd-and-15 conversion on a pass that took his team from the Hubbard 37-yard-line all the way to the eight. His eight-yard run on the next play gave the Grizzlies a lead they would not relinquish.

For Knoche, knowing that he has players who can step in like Merrill did is something he and his coaching staff are fortunate to have and something he knows not to take for granted.

“He’s one of the sophomores I mentioned earlier, we didn’t know what was going to happen,” he said. “It’s good to know that our starting running back won’t have to take every snap in this offense. That’s a big load to carry, so this will keep them fresher when they’re all healthy.”

Payton continues its season with a Friday afternoon matchup against Phoenix Military Academy at Rockne Stadium, while the Greyhounds hope to get into the win column when they take on Catalyst/Maria this afternoon, also at Rockne.

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