After having their best and most-seasoned runner, Cole Newbold, quit the boys cross country team early in the season, the Longhorns were not expected to be a regional title contender.
But by winning the Alchesay Invitational Oct. 10 in Whiteriver, the Horns propelled themselves back into the title picture.
The triumph also served as a morale builder for Payson by defeating three of the teams Alchesay, Blue Ridge and Snowflake that were projected to be contenders for East regional honors.
Payson's win over defending region champ Alchesay was by a single point (48-49). Blue Ridge finished fourth (83) and Snowflake (85) fifth. Holbrook, a north region team, claimed third with 68 points.
With the Alchesay Invitational victory in their back pockets, the Horns have the opportunity today to earn a regional title at the East championships on the Snowflake Municipal Golf Course. The three-mile boys run will begin at 4:30 p.m.
In the championships, the Horns chief competition will probably come once again from the Falcons.
The Horns will counter anything Alchesay and the rest of the East throw at them with a stable of six runners who have shown improvement through the season, coach Chuck Hardt said. They include Justin Rodgers, Joe Behrens, Brian Langeliers, Daniel Jacobs, Danny Malloy and Martin Garcia.
In the Horns last outing, at the Holbrook Invitational Oct. 20, Rogers turned in the team's best effort, finishing 46th in the 122-runner field. Rodgers was timed in 15:59. The winning runner was clocked in 14:19.
Langeliers (64th; 16:25), Behrens (79th; 16:56), Jacobs (90th; 17:16), Malloy (93rd; 17:26), Garcia (95th; 17:28) also participated. Josh Dahm represented Payson, as well, and finished 99th in 17:46.
It will take the team finishing among the East's top four to qualify for the state finals, to be held Nov. 3 at Anthem. There, the 3A boys run is slated to begin at 10:45 a.m. near the Anthem Community Center.