A Longhorn boys soccer team that once struggled for lack of players is now at full strength and geared up for a Grand Canyon Region tournament victory.
The Horns open the tournament at 3 p.m. today in Page.
A win over the homestanding Sand Devils would keep the Horns in contention of being the first Payson High School boys soccer team to advance to the 4A state playoffs.
Payson opens today's postseason showdown with a 2-3 GCR mark (3-5 overall) and fresh off a resounding 1-0 upset of the Mingus Marauders.
In whipping Mingus Jan. 20 in Cottonwood, the Horn lineup finally featured all its starters.
"Because of a wide array of reasons, we have been short two to four starters in our earlier games," coach Roger Wholly said.
Wholly was able to position players as he had wanted all season rather than having to juggle the lineup, putting team members in positions where they were not best suited to help the team effort.
With the Horns lineup intact against the Marauders -- who at the time were battling Flagstaff for the GCR regular season championship -- the PHS defense was able to keep Mingus at bay.
"The first half was a 0-0 draw," Wholly said. "Erik Monty, Noel Hernandez, Ian Binney, Patrick Karlowski and Fabian Chavez played a great organized defense."
Midway through the second half, after Wholly had made several changes in the offense, Trent Hubbard scored off an assist from Nathan Doyle, set up by a pass from Ryan Mitchell.
The precarious 1-0 lead, however, "was only going to hold up if our defense held together," Wholly said.
The final minutes, the coach said, "was the longest 16 minutes in the 2004-2005 season."
Although the Marauders outshot Payson 9-2 in the late going, Mingus could never score the game-tying goal.