It took a soccer team, the Glendale Cardinals, that had won two of the past three Class 4A state championships to put an end to the Longhorns' aspirations of an Arizona title.
Horn dreams were squashed 2-0 in the first round of the state tournament Feb. 1 at Rumsey Park.
The Horns entered the tournament as the Grand Canyon region's No. 2 seed. Glendale represented the Skyline's No. 3 seed. After whipping Payson, Glendale was eliminated, 2-0, in the state tournament's second round by Sonoran region champion Tucson Rincon.
For the Longhorns to reach the state tournament as a two-seed represented a monumental accomplishment. Due to a variety of unfortunate circumstances -- including player absences -- the team got off to a slow start and seemed destined to finish the campaign as the Grand Canyon regular season cellar dweller.
But late in the year, coach Roger Wholly finally had all his players intact and was able to plug his athletes into the positions they could best help the team.
What resulted was a late run that improved the team's record to 5-6 and earned the Horns a spot in the GCR region tournament championship against Flagstaff Sinagua.
In the hard-fought finale, the two teams battled tooth and nail during a blustery afternoon at Rumsey Park.
In the 15th minute of play, Sinagua's A.J. Mancene scored the game's only goal to give the Mustangs the regional title.
Losing 1-0 was a reversal of fortunes of sorts for Payson -- the Horns had won three back-to-back games by the identical score.
The score also indicated how much the Horns had improved during the year. Earlier in the season, Sinagua walloped Payson 6-0.
Much of the credit for the Horns showing in the championship game goes to goalies Erik Monty and Kevin Murphy.
"They kept the game as close as it was," Wholly said.
Following the championship showdown, the Grand Canyon all-region team was announced.
Representing Payson were first team members Trent Hubbard and Patrick Karlowski. Hubbard was named as a forward and Karlowski as stopper. Ian Binney was tapped to the second team defense and Nathan Doyle selected honorable mention.