With only two East contests remaining on the 2001 agenda tomorrow (Wednesday) in Wilson Dome against Holbrook and Jan. 24 in Snowflake the state top-ranked Payson Longhorns are on the verge of nailing down the school's 23rd regional wrestling championship.
But, the road to the title could be a rocky one as both the Roadrunners and Lobos will enter the frays boasting lofty state top-10 rankings.
In last week's Arizona Coaches Association poll, Holbrook was ranked seventh and Snowflake third. Both regional rivals, PHS coaches say, feature highly capable squads that could derail the Horns' gold-medal express as it steams toward a sixth consecutive 3A championship.
As Arizona's No. 1 ranked team, the Longhorns tuned up for the upcoming crucial East showdowns by thumping both Winslow and Blue Ridge in a rare prep trifecta held Jan. 10 in Winslow.
In whipping regional rival Blue Ridge 48-22, the Horns remained unbeaten (5-0) in the East.
Because Winslow is a member of the North region, the 46-23 triumph over the Bulldogs had no effect on Payson's pursuit of a regional crown. The win does, however, enhance Payson High's glowing reputation as the best Class 3A wrestling program in Arizona.
Winslow a school at which wrestling has been a tradition since 1960 entered the fray as the state's sixth-ranked team.
Further bolstering Winslow's claims of excellence was the fact the Dogs were the last team to defeat Payson in a regular season dual match. That stirring upset occurred midway through last season and set the stage for a Horn resurgence that saw the Rim mat crew go on to win a fifth consecutive state crown.
In rolling to the state championship at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, the Horns edged Winslow forcing the Bulldogs to settle for state runner-up laurels.
Three-way shoot-out in northland
Although Payson eventually emerged victorious in last week's head-to-head confrontation against Winslow, the match was highlighted by numerous anxious moments.
After Payson High freshman Brandon Boll lost the 145-pound match by a fall, the Horns found themselves in the unusual position of trailing 20-19 on the scoreboard.
Responding to the adversity, 152-pound Caleb Miller chalked up a 12-6 victory to propel the Horns to a slim 23-20 lead.
The see-saw affair turned in Winslow's favor once again when Payson's 160-pound Cole Newbold dropped a 5-2 decision.
Trailing 23-22, the determined Horns staged a late rally. By winning their final four matches on falls, the Longhorns came from behind to nail down the triumph.
The Horn blitzkrieg got off to a rousing start when 171-pound Rocky Beery, a state third-place finisher last year, pinned his Dog foe in the third period. Earlier, Beery had built leads of 4-0 and 7-0 to set up the pin.
Payson's 189-pound George Coleman kept the Horn rally on track by pinning his foe in the first period.
Building on the energy of Beery and Coleman's efforts, 215-pound Bryce River and heavyweight Ingo Beck dominated their opponents before winning on pins.
Also contributing to the Horn cause were Billy Bob Hoyt (103), Matt McCarty (125), Zack Lee (135) and R.C. LaHaye (140). Hoyt won on a fall; McCarty took a 15-9 decision; and Lee pinned his opponent in the first period. LaHaye, a two-time defending state champion who is unbeaten this year, strung together 11 takedowns to win 22-11.
Yellow Jackets stung
Thankfully for Horn fans, the dual against Blue Ridge didn't feature the steaming late drama of the war against Winslow.
Following Hoyt's match opening win by a fall, Payson never trailed on the scoreboard.
About the only anxious moments occurred at the conclusion of the 145-pound match, when Blue Ridge managed to close the Horn cushion to 21-19.
One match later, however, Miller's victory by a fall jump-started the Horns. Blue Ridge's forfeits to Newbold (160) and River (215) layered icing on the Longhorn victory cake.
Victorious Payson wrestlers included Daniel Reisdorf (119; 8-3 decision), Lee (135; fall), LaHaye (140; forfeit) and Beck (heavyweight; 6-1 decision).
Grading the grapplers
1. Mesa Dobson
2. Tucson Flowing Wells
3. Mesa Red Mountain
4. Gilbert Highland
5. Tucson Canyon del Oro
6. Mesa Mountain View
7. Tempe Marcos de Niza
9. Desert Vista
1. Tucson Sunnyside
3. Cottonwood Mingus
4. Tucson Desert View
6. Peoria Sunrise Mountain
7. Moon Valley
8. Glendale Cactus
9. Flagstaff Coconino
2. Rio Rico
4. Show Low
8. Chandler Seton Catholic
9. San Manuel
10. Eloy Santa Cruz
2. Heber Mogollon
4. Winterhaven San Pasqual
6. Tucson Pusch Ridge
7. Joseph City
10. Phoenix Christian