A determined late charge by Joe Behrens earned the Payson High junior a gold-medal finish at the Longhorn Invitational cross country meet held Sept. 5.
On the fairways of Payson Golf Course, Behrens turned on the speed in the last 50 yards to outrace runner-up Patrick Fedyski of Scottsdale Christian. Behrens was timed in 18:14; Fedyski in 18:19.
Although Behrens was expected to do well in the race, it was the seventh-place finish of Payson's Dusty Rodgers (20:12) that caught most spectators by surprise.
An East regional runner-up last season, Rodgers entered the competition as one of the favorites. Suffering through a rare off day, Rodgers struggled over the 3.2-mile course.
Longhorns Tanner Morgan finished third (19:59) and Brian Langeliers fourth (20:03).
The showings of Behrens, Morgan, Langeliers and Rodgers earned Payson the invitational championship with a meet low 34 points.
Trailing were Scottsdale Christian (42), Blue Ridge (57), Snowflake (101) and Higley (107). Round Valley had only four athletes finish, one shy of the mandatory roster number, and was not included in the final standings.
Also representing Payson in the 51-runner field were Josh Sprinkle (22:23), Paul Welch (28th; 23:47) Steve Colbertson (31st; 24:05) and Kevin Murphy (45th; 30:28).
Although it's early in the season, Payson's easy victories over region rivals Blue Ridge, Snowflake and Round Valley made the Longhorns one of the teams to beat in the chase for East honors.
The other favorite, Alchesay, is slated to host the regional championships Nov. 1 in Whiteriver. Last fall, the Falcons edged Payson 36-41 for the East regional championship.
With a solid nucleus of veterans returning, the Horns are projected to sport the runners it will take to wrestle the title away from the Falcons.
Payson returns to action Sept. 28 at the Blue Ridge Invitational in Lakeside. Start time is 1 p.m.