An impressive 55-20 pummeling of the home-standing Winslow Bulldogs improved the Longhorn wrestling team’s early season dual meet record to 7-2.
Entering the Dec. 11 mat skirmish, the Dogs were projected to be the strongest team in the 3A North region and a state title contender.
Those predictions were based partly on a stellar football season in which the Bulldogs won the region championship and reached the state semifinals. That gridiron showing and two wins over defending state champion Blue Ridge meant the student body obviously sported the athletes it takes to field good teams.
Refusing to be influenced by the Dogs’ reputation, Payson rallied from a 14-12 deficit to run away with the 35-point victory.
Payson’s rally received a jump start in the 130-pound match when Lee Perez won on a fall.
The pin, which was worth six team points, propelled Payson to an 18-14 lead.
The showdown between the Dogs and Horns opened on the downside when Payson’s heavyweight entry, Sammy Perez, lost by a fall.
Next up, 103-pound Tyler Goodman won a 15-6 decision to close Winslow’s lead to 6-4. However, Payson fell further behind after forfeiting the 112-pound division.
Brad Wilembrecht (119) won on a fall to give Payson a 12-10 lead. The see-saw match turned to Winslow’s favor when 125-pound Longhorn David Cluff lost a 15-2 major decision.
After Lee Perez’s win by a fall, Payson improved its cushion to 27-14 on 135-pound Shane Hounshell’s 7-2 victory and Matt McCarty’s (140) pin.
Winslow pulled to within 27-20 after PHS freshman Andy Sanders was pinned in the 145-pound clash.
Senior Zack Lee (152) defending region and state champion as on hand with a pin to give the Horns a 33-20 lead.
Larry Wilbanks (160) had an 11-2 win by a major decision. His victory, worth four team points, lifted the Horns to a 17-point lead with only three individual matches remaining
Any hopes the Dogs had of pulling off a come-from-behind victory were whisked away when Nate Lee (171), Donald Engler (189) and George Coleman (215) won by falls.
Engler’s win could be a sign of many good things to come for the PHS wrestling program. Only a freshman, Engler who is known for his quiet but tenacious demeanor could be the next in a long line of well-groomed Longhorn wrestlers in the heavier weight divisions.
Longhorn fans will have an opportunity for a glimpse of the team in tournament action Dec. 20 and 21 when PHS plays host to the 12-team Rim Country Duals.
Action begins at 2 p.m. Friday and continues until about 9 p.m. Action resumes at 9 a.m. Saturday and will wrap up with the dual meet championships during the early evening hours.
Tournament director Don Heizer will finalize the schedule later this week after conferring with all coaches involved. He anticipates the format being the same as previous years. Traditionally, the teams compete on opening day in two pools of six teams each. The following day, a single elimination tournament determines the overall dual meet champion.
Also, an individual mini tournament will be held Saturday that will seed the top four wrestlers in each weight division against one another.
Among the teams LaMotte expects to contend for the team championship are Desert Mountain, Glendale Ironwood, Apache Junction and Payson.