The Longhorn wrestling team doesn't boast the power-packed nationally ranked lineup it once did, but the mat crew continues to be a force on the East regional scene.
Proof that the Longhorns are not to be counted out of the title chase was issued in a 63-15 win over East Rival Round Valley Jan. 9 in Wilson Dome.
Also that evening, the Horns blasted 3A West region member Higley 76-6.
Prior to the Payson sweep of the twin bill, the Elks were projected to be one of the East teams, along with Snowflake and Show Low, that would sport the muscle to wrestle the East title away from the Longhorns.
But that prognostication proved false when Longhorns bugled the Elks for six wins by falls on the way to a lopsided 48-point victory.
The Horns got off to a rousing start when 215-pound George Coleman pinned his RV foe late in the first period.
In a new prep format, matches no longer begin with the lightest division (103) and continue through the weights until the match-ending heavyweight clash.
Under the new scheme, a drawing is held prior to each match to determine what weight class the matches will begin.
Against Round Valley, Coleman was the first to take to the mat.
Next up, Payson heavyweight Ingo Beck upped the Horns lead to 9-0, winning a 10-5 decision. Beck built a 5-0 lead in the first quarter, scoring on a takedown and a near fall. Early in the third period, he led 7-2 before giving up an escape and takedown..
With the 215-pound and heavyweight matches in the rear view mirror, attention focused on the 103-pound clash.
Only a few weeks ago, the Horns would have had to forfeit that match because the team had no athlete to fill the weight division.
During the Christmas break, however, sophomore Brian Paap following urgings from his classmates turned out for the team.
Against RV, Paap was willing and able to show his newfound mat wares, but this time out it was the Elks who had no athlete to fill the weight class.
Paap was awarded a six-point forfeit win as was Payson's 112-pound Brad Wilembrecht.
Leading 21-0, the Horns upped their lead by six more points when 119-pound Ryan Holland won by a fall late in the first period.
Round Valley rebounded to score their first points in the 125-pound showdown that pitted Elk Travis Merrill against Payson's Shane Hounshell. Merrill wrestled his way to a 7-1 lead, then pinned Hounshell through the second period.
That RV win sparked a Longhorn rally that produced seven consecutive wins by falls.
Matt McCarty got the Longhorns off and running by winning the 130-match. The rally continued unchecked with six-point victories from Larry Wilbanks (135), Daniel Reisdorf (140), Zack Lee (145), Nathan Lee (152) and Cole Newbold (160).
The sheer display of dominance was reminiscent of the days Payson dominated the high school wrestling scene, winning five consecutive state championships.
Payson's blitzkrieg didn't end until 171-pound Tyler Williams lost by a fall to Round Valley's Jason Crosby.
The Elks scored their final points of the evening when Payson 189-pound Bryce River lost a hard-fought 6-3 decision.
River, a junior, fell behind 4-0 in the second period, then gave up a reversal in the third stanza. His points came late in the match on an escape and takedown.
West neighbors no match
If Higley wishes to experience the thrill of victory, their best advice might be to stay out of the formidable East division.
Against the Longhorns, Higley was simply overpowered and outmanned.
Riding the crest of seven wins by falls and four by forfeits, the Longhorns were on cruise control throughout the match.
Payson wins by pins were chalked up by Coleman (215), Beck (heavyweight), Wilembrecht (112), McCarty (130), Nathan Lee (152) Tyler Williams (171) and River (189). Payson's only defeat was suffered by Shane Hounshell (125).
The Horns will return to action in a rare three-way East regional meet Thursday in Snowflake.
Originally, the Horns were to travel to Whiteriver Alchesay Wednesday for a 6:30 p.m. clash.
However, because Payson's dual meet slated for Dec. 12 in Snowflake was canceled due to snow and poor road conditions, school officials only last week revamped the original schedule. Alchesay has agreed to move its dual meet against Payson to Snowflake Thursday. With that agreement, Payson can make up the rescheduled match against Snowflake.
Although start times have not been decided, PHS coach Dave LaMotte expects Payson and Alchesay to meet at 4:30 p.m. in Lobo gymnasium. Immediately following, about 6 p.m., Payson and Snowflake will lock horns.
Barring an upset, the Horns will dominate Whiteriver and improve their East record to 2-0.
In Whiteriver, wrestling takes a back seat to basketball, which traditionally has resulted in the Falcons having less than formidable mat teams.
Against Snowflake, where good teams are a part of the Lobo heritage, the Horns could be in for a stern test.
"They have some good athletes in their lineup," LaMotte said.
With a three-way meet now Thursday, the Horn mat men are facing three consecutive days of competition.
Friday and Saturday, the nine-team Tim Van Horn Invitational will be held in Wilson Dome.
The meet gets rolling at 2 p.m. Friday, and at 9 a.m. Saturday.