In the fierce and hotly contested battle between two of the top wrestling teams in the country, Aztec (N.M.) edged out Payson, 34-30 Saturday.
The match took place in Wilson Dome before a pro-Payson crowd that was kept on the edge of its seats all evening.
The team score seesawed back and forth throughout the match until an Aztec pin in the heavyweight event propelled the New Mexico school from a 30-28 deficit to a 4-point victory.
Coach Dennis Pirch, who set up the unique interstate match last spring, said that losing was disappointing but the match was a tremendous thrill and great experience for his young grapplers.
He also praised Aztec for having a great wrestling program and for making the trip to the Rim country to compete in the rare match.
Most of the hoopla surrounding the clash was due to the sterling credentials of both nationally ranked teams.
In New Mexico Class 4A circles, Aztec is the state's top program having won 11 consecutive championships while piling up a 221-3 record. Since beginning the incredible streak in 1987, Aztec has won 122 tournaments and last year finished with a 25-2 dual meet record.
What Aztec High is to New Mexico, Payson High is to Arizona.
In the last decade, the Horns have won 175 dual meets on their way to eight Class 3A state titles. Since 1974, the team has won 97 tournaments, 23 regional championships, and last season, finished 22-1 in dual meets.
The largest cushion any team could build in the thrill-packed match occurred at the conclusion of the 160-pound clash when Longhorn Rocky Beery's 14-0 win propelled Payson to a 27-19 lead.
But only one match later (171 pounds), Cole Newbold suffered a 12-0 loss that narrowed the Horn lead to 27-23.
George Coleman's 8-6 victory in the 189-pound match upped the Payson lead to 30-23.
With victory or defeat hinging on the outcome of the final two weight division battles, all eyes were focused on Bryce River (215) and Ingo Beck (heavyweight). Both entered the meet fighting a flu bug that had slowed several of the team members most of last week.
Falling behind 11-2 in the first period, River eventually was outpointed 19-4. Beck who gave up almost 30 pounds to his opponent lost by fall in the second period.
By scoring 11 points in the final two matches, Aztec erased Payson's 7-point lead and returned to New Mexico victorious.
The Longhorn coaching staff is never one to offer up excuses, but the outcome could have been different had Payson's star wrestler R.C. LaHaye been available. Because he had been battling a sore back and then the flu, LaHaye was held out of the competition.
As a two-time defending state champion who is on a 107-match winning streak, LaHaye could have given the Horns the firepower to win the 140-pound battle. Untested freshman Brandon Boll filled in at 140 and lost by a fall.
Seniors, parents honored
In addition to a few hours of superb sports action, the evening was also highlighted by a tribute to PHS senior wrestlers, wrestlerettes and their parents.
Honored were Rocky Beery (parents: Rob & Leighanne Beery), Aaron Bratholt (Dan and Kim Zeruche), Craig Connolly (James and Laura Lee Connolly), R.C. LaHaye (Ray and Jenny LaHaye), Caleb Miller (Dave and Connie Miller), Cheyenne Eckstein (Gail Hodge and Craig Eckstein), Jennifer Winans (Terry and Lynn Winans) and Lisa Olson (Robert and Rebecca Olson).
Next up for the Longhorns is the all-important East regional championship to be held tomorrow (Saturday) in Wilson Dome. Matches begin about 11 a.m. Admission is $4 for adults and $3 for children.
The top-four finishers in each weight division will earn berths to the state tournament Feb. 13 and Feb. 14 at Phoenix Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
103 - Billy Bob Hoyt (won: 14-8)
112 - Larry Wilbanks (lost: 10-1)
119 - Daniel Reisdorf (lost: fall)
125 - Matt McCarty (won: 9-5)
130 - Aaron Bratholt (won: tech. fall)
135 - Zack Lee (won; tech. fall)
145 - Levi Armstrong (lost: 8-2)
152 - Caleb Miller (won: fall)