Longhorn wrestler Larry Wilbanks has taken a huge step toward his goal of someday earning a Division I scholarship.
The gigantic stride was a nail-biting victory over one of the most acclaimed wrestlers in the United States.
Battling in the Arizona Coaches Association Red vs. Blue All-star match Feb. 28, Wilbanks out pointed (3-1)Tempe Marcos de Niza mat star Alex Pavelenko.
Wilbanks entered the postseason celestial clash with a 51-0 record and the Class 4A 160-pound state championship tucked away.
As good as Wilbanks is, Pavelenko has drawn more media hype and has been offered an athletic scholarship to Arizona State University.
He opened the match against Wilbanks as the Class 5A 160-pound state champion with a 46-0 record and a No. 6 national ranking. The last time the senior lost a match was during his sophomore season.
"He is good at everything he does," Wilbanks said.
In the only other meeting between the two, less than two years ago in a USA Wrestling freestyle match, Pavelenko edged out a 3-2 decision.
Although the Payson wrestler held his opponent in high regard, he showed no fear battling the Tempe wrestler to a scoreless tie in the first period.
Midway through the second, Wilbanks took a 1-0 lead on an escape.
"He had me in a hold and tried to switch to my legs," Wilbanks said. "I kind of scrambled and stood up to get away."
Although Wilbanks held only a slim one-point lead, PHS coach Rich Ormand said the match was dominated by the Payson wrestler.
"Larry was clearly the aggressor in the period, committing five takedown attempts to none," he said.
Throughout the remainder of the second and early into the third period, the two battled to a stalemate.
"We were on our feet, nothing much happened," Wilbanks said.
Midway through the third, Pavelenko tied the score 1-1 on an escape scored after an out-of-bounds restart.
"Pavelenko chose the down position and after being stopped initially earned an escape," Ormand said. "The remainder of the match, Larry was still the aggressor."
With about five seconds remaining in the match and Wilbanks working desperately to score the winning points, the Payson wrestler opted for a shoot.
"After a brief counter flurry by Pavelenko, Larry fought his way in deeper and secured a takedown at the buzzer," Ormand said.
Following Wilbanks' two-point upset, Pavelenko was gracious in defeat.
"He was a good sport about it. We talked," Wilbanks said.
During the win, the Payson grappler was cheered on by a band of Rim country supporters who journeyed to Casa Grande to show their support.
"He had a lot of people there for him," said Rim Country Middle School eighth-grade wrestling state champion Mark McCarty.
Wilbanks is now hoping the victory will soon earn him a scholarship to a major university.
"I think there is some D-1 openings coming up. I've talked to some recruiters," he said.
This weekend, Wilbanks will travel to Western State College in Colorado for a recruiting visit. Before he signs a letter of intent with any school, Wilbanks says he will weigh all his options and then make a decision based on what is best for his wrestling career.