Only one obstacle stands in the way of the Payson Longhorn wrestling team pinning down its 22nd regional championship soon.
The Horns can do away with that obstruction and claim the 3A East title by whipping the homestanding Snowflake Lobos tomorrow (Jan. 26). Match time is 6 p.m.
A victory over Snowflake would also push the Horns' regional dual meet credentials to a perfect 6-0.
Since the Longhorns first won a region championship in 1976, the only years the team came up short of claiming crowns were 1983, 1985 and 1995.
The excellence of the program in regular season action led to nine state titles and recognition as one of the best wrestling programs in the United States.
Horn coach and team founder Dennis Pirch said he expects the Lobos to give the Horns a stiff challenge in the upcoming clash.
But in light of Payson's East victories this year including 50-12 over Round Valley, 56-21 against Show Low and a 48-12 shellacking of Holbrook, expecting the Lobos to be competitive might be a bit too much.
The Longhorns are simply the class of the 3A conference and there haven't been many opponents who have been able to do much about it.
Entering the Jan. 19 match in Holbrook, the Roadrunners were given a chance to make a run at the Horns because of their traditionally tough program and a Payson team that had several individuals missing from the lineup.
Injured athletes included R.C. LaHaye (broken hand), Levi Armstrong (shoulder bruise) and Matt Walker (shoulder).
Also absent were promising freshman Taylor Walden, who transferred to Show Low last week, and Dustin Attebury.
Two weeks ago, Attebury quit the team after starting most of the season in the 215-pound slot.
The MIAs didn't do much to slow the Horn express.
Although Holbrook led 6-4 after Horn freshman Zack Lee was pinned in the 112-pound match, there was never much doubt Payson would emerge victorious.
The River rises
The Horns' biggest cushion reached 48-9 at the conclusion of the 215-pound match won 18-11 by Bryce River.
As a 205-pound freshman, the youngster is undersized and inexperienced for the slot, but each time the Horn staff has asked him to rise to the occasion, he's done just that.
River has developed a penchant for falling behind early and then rallying for a win. Against Holbrook, he strayed from the norm by holding his own early in the going. The first period ended in a 5-5 tie.
In the final two periods he began to pile up points for the victory, recording three near falls and two reversals.
Others victorious in Holbrook included Matt McCarty (103; 14-6), Justin Cline (119; 6-2), Aaron Bratholt (125; 13-2), Jerry Baker (130; forfeit), Caleb Miller (145; 14-1), Mike Wright (152; fall), Doyle Van Horn (160; 4-0), Rocky Beery (171; 10-5) and Jimbo Armstrong (189; fall).