Barring a holiday miracle the likes of the one on 34th Street, the five-time defending state champion Longhorn wrestling team will soon tack two East region wins onto its already perfect record (2-0).
Tomorrow (Wednesday) in Wilson Dome, the Horns play host to a pair of East foes Alchesay and Pinnacle that have never sported a roster capable of grappling on even terms with powerful Payson High. Match time is 6 p.m.
In Alchesay, an Apache reservation school in Whiteriver, wrestling takes a distant back seat to the community's favorite sport basketball.
Pinnacle, a newly built North Scottsdale school, is in its first year of operation and doesn't yet boast the athletes or the tradition to compete with the defending champs.
Although team scores could turn lopsided in PHS's favor, fans can expect some hotly contested individual matches.
SL turns tough
Payson may have faced its biggest obstacle to earning a 23rd regional championship Dec. 6 in Wilson Dome.
There, the arch rival Show Low Cougars gave the Horns a gut check before Payson could rally late in the match for a 41-24 triumph.
Days before the match, Horn coach Dennis Pirch accurately predicted the Cougars sported the lineup to give his team fits. Had it not been for the determined mat efforts of a trio of Payson's largest grapplers George Coleman (189), Bryce River (215) and Ingo Beck (heavyweight), the Horns wouldn't have emerged victorious.
"The big weights really came through," Pirch said. "They are maturing into wrestlers."
Entering the final three matches, Payson clung to a precarious 26-24 lead.
With the outcome of the match in doubt, Coleman a sophomore who transferred this year to Payson from out of state rose to the occasion as if he were a veteran carefully seasoned by the storied Horn wrestling tradition.
Entering the crucial third and final period of action, Coleman had scored on take down and reversal to assume a 4-2 lead. Seconds into the stanza, his Cougar foe executed an escape to close the count to 4-3. Coleman, however, held on for a win that upped the Horn team lead to 29-24.
Although Coleman's showing was huge, Show Low could have salvaged a come-from-behind victory with triumphs in the final two matches. River and Beck would have none of that. The two preserved the exciting victory with wins by falls that upped the final margin to 17 points.
Both left little doubt they were the superior wrestlers by pinning their SL counterparts early in the first period.
In addition to the outstanding efforts from Payson's big three, the Horn cause received sterling performances from Billy Bob Hoyt, Matt McCarty, Aaron Bratholt, Zack Lee, R.C. LaHaye, and Caleb Miller.
Wrestling in the 103-pound class, Hoyt just a freshman survived a 3-2 decision over longtime Cougar nemesis Sean Seymore.
"He is good ... always gives me a good match," Hoyt said.
The two have been battling one another since they were in sixth-grade and members of their respective middle school teams. In their first clash three years ago, Seymore emerged victorious. However, when both were eighth-graders, Hoyt twice whipped Seymore.
Following Hoyt's most recent win, the Horns dropped two consecutive matches to find themselves in the very rare position of trailing on the scoreboard.
With SL leading 9-3, McCarty (125) got the Horn victory express back on track with a 19-4 technical fall that pulled Payson to within one, 9-8.
Bratholt (130) helped the Horns regain the lead with a convincing 16-5 triumph. Only moments later, Lee gave the Horns some breathing room (18-9) winning on fall.
In the 140-pound mat war, LaHaye a highly skilled two-time weight division champion in search of a college athletic scholarship easily won a 22-7 technical fall.
Miller (152), a state runner-up last year, set the stage for Coleman, River and Beck's heroics by pounding out a 5-2 decision.