The Payson Longhorns four-year 81-dual match winning streak came to a grinding halt Saturday evening at Salpointe High School in Tucson.
After dominating the state wrestling scene for the past four years, the Longhorns experienced the unknown -- the heartbreak of defeat losing to Class 5A top-ranked Salpointe 35-21 and 10-time 5A state champion Sunnyside, 50-6.
The Horns did salvage one match in the three-way affair beating Hanks High School of El Paso, Texas 37-33.
The end of the streak was not entirely unexpected for coach Dennis Pirch and his staff.
The competition faced in Tucson was the fiercest Arizona has to offer and Payson did it without the services of a full team.
Very rarely -- some can't remember the last time -- have the Horns not sent a full compliment of 14 wrestlers to the mat. But Saturday, Payson forfeited three weight classes in each of the three matches.
Most often it was 103, 130 and the heavyweight classes. In the loss to Salpointe, 215-pound Mike Barker moved to heavyweight and the Horns forfeited the 215 clash.
Losing is never pleasant but Pirch found solace in the trip to Tucson. "The whole experience was good. We know where we need to go and what to work on. We have to continue to improve."
The Horns probably could have kept the streak alive by not accepting Salpointe's invitation last spring to compete in Tucson and continue to battle only 3A schools.
After all, Payson had lost a solid group of standouts to graduation and would be facing the state's best during a rebuilding year.
But ducking the competition is not the Horn coaching staff's style. They said it was best to participate in the meet, gain valuable experience and prepare for rugged mat wars down the road.
In light of the defeats, the Horn staff and athletes will now focus on filling the weight classes that were forfeited.
The heavyweight division will be amply taken over when returning letterman Blair River loses enough weight to reach the 275 pound maximum of the class. At the conclusion of the football season, in which he played nose guard for the Longhorns, River weighed in at 300-plus pounds.
He's on a diet, which he says is going slowly, but should be reaching his weight limit goals soon.
In the 103 and 130-pound class, several wrestlers are vying for starting varsity duties and could be ready by this weekend's Rim Country Duals Tournament.
In the landslide loss to Sunnyside, the only Payson wrestlers to emerge victorious were 160-pound Mike Armstrong and Barker.
Armstrong won a 7-3 decision and Barker survived a close one 7-5.
Several of the other matches were extremely hard fought and the results could have gone either way.
Ben Gartner (171) lost only 7-6, freshman Levi Armstrong (140) was edged 4-2 and Caleb Miller (135) beaten just 5-2.
Against Salpointe, the Horns never could catch the Lancers on the scoreboard after forfeiting the 103-pound class. Aaron Bratholt's loss by a decision in 112-pound clash put the Horns even deeper in the hole.
Payson did, however, close the count to 10-9 after Caleb Miller won a 9-8 decision in the 135-pound competition and 13-12 when Mike Wright won a 9-7 decision at 145.
But that was as close as the Longhorns could get as the Lancers pulled away for the 14-point triumph.
Highlights of the match for Payson fans were pins by Justin Cline (119) and Barker (215).
In facing El Paso Hanks for the first time in the history of PHS, the Horns trailed 21-11 at the conclusion of the 140-pound match and were in danger of being shut out in the southland.
But a huge turn-around first fueled by Wright (145), Doyle Van Horn (152) and Mike Armstrong (160) set the Horn victory ship steaming towards a win.
Wright won an 18-17 decision. Van Horn copped a pin and Armstrong was victorious on a technical fall.
Barker's win by a pin in his only heavyweight outing nailed down the triumph.
For Barker, the victory was his third of the day and kept him undefeated so far this season.