In one of the most dramatic dual meets ever witnessed in Wilson Dome, the Payson Longhorns rallied from a seven-point deficit to edge Tucson Flowing Wells 36-31.
Coach Dave LaMotte was among those left emotionally drained by the excitement.
"It was a great dual. We knew we were in trouble when we lost in the lighter weights, but (we) wrestled our way out of it," he said.
Contested Saturday afternoon in Wilson Dome, the score see-sawed back and forth until Flowing Wells took a 31-24 lead with just two matches remaining 130- and 135-pound divisions.
Earlier in the fray, Payson built a 24-9 cushion, only to watch Flowing Wells win four consecutive matches 103, 112, 119 and 125 and score 22 unanswered points.
In the crucial 130-pound clash, Payson's Matt McCarty took to the mat looking to put an end to the Tucson win streak. Scoring early on a two-point takedown, McCarty was able to position his Tucson foe, Eli Scroggins, for a fall.
The pin, which officially was recorded at 1:11 of the first period closed Flowing Wells' lead to 31-30.
McCarty's triumph thrust the outcome of the dual squarely on the shoulders of Payson's 135-pound sophomore Larry Wilbanks. Paired against Tucson's Derek Wright, Wilbanks built a 6-1 lead on two takedowns and a near fall. In the second period, he upped the count to 8-1 on another near fall before pinning Wright in 3:02.
The win sent a welcome sigh of relief through the Payson crowd, which had earlier wondered if the team had the wherewithal for a last-gasp rally.
For LaMotte, the triumph was a good sign.
"Some of these kids are really starting to wrestle well ... the team is coming together," he said.
In previous years, McCarty and Wilbanks would never have been in the position of having the outcome of the dual resting on them. That's because the final matches of every dual were the 215-pound and heavyweight clashes.
According to previous wrestling rules, duals opened with the 103-pound division and continued through the weights until the heavyweight finale.
That's no longer true. This season, a card is drawn prior to each match to determine which weight division will wrestle first.
Saturday, it was the 140-pounders who opened the afternoon.
Although Payson's entry, sophomore Daniel Reisdorf, competed well, he lost a 9-3 decision.
Next up, the 145-pound battle showcased Payson's unbeaten Nate Lee (29-0) against Tucson's Matt Misner. As a Class 5A state placer last year, Misner entered the showdown with a reputation that included having given former Payson three-time state champion R.C. LaHaye a tussle last season.
Minutes before the Lee/ Misner match began, LaMotte predicted it could be the mother of all mat wars.
The head-to-head battle turned out to be just what the coach predicted. Scoring early on a takedown, Lee took a 2-0 lead. In the second stanza, Lee tacked on a reversal but also gave up a takedown and escape.
Clinging to a 4-3 lead late in the match, Lee was in position to ride out the win. Misner foiled that plan by scoring an escape to deadknot the tally at 4-4.
Battling to retain his unblemished record, Lee took Misner to the mat for a two-point takedown and a 6-4 victory in sudden death overtime.
Following Lee's dramatic victory, his younger brother Nate Lee won the 152-pound battle by a pin to give the Horns a 9-3 lead.
With the victory, Nate a freshman is 26-3 on the year.
Other Payson winners included Cole Newbold (160), Bryce River (189), George Coleman (215) and Ingo Beck (heavyweight).
River easily pinned his foe, but Newbold, Coleman and Beck were all involved in one-point decisions.
Newbold won 5-4, Coleman was victorious 3-2 and Beck survived 1-0.
"We are winning the close (matches) and that's important," LaMotte said.
Coleman's victory improved his record to 28-1. His only loss was incurred at the season opening Mesa Westwood Warrior Classic.
Although Payson's victory was by the narrowest of margins, whipping a Class 4A school that has a reputation of housing a solid wrestling program will be a feather in the Horns' cap when coaches gather to rank teams later this season.
Currently, the Horns are ranked 6th in the Class 3A polls.