Paced by probably the best running feat of David Cluff's career, the Longhorn cross country team raced to a fifth place Class 3A state finish.
In the championships held Nov. 5 at Cave Creek Golf Course, Cluff turned in an impressive 12th place finish while pitted against 122 of the finest runners in the state.
Behind Cluff's showing, the Horns posted 156 points to trail only traditional Northern Arizona Hopi and Navajo Reservation powers: Chinle (95), Ganado (67), Tuba City (65) and state champion Hopi (62).
The meet results also served as a revenge-of-sorts for a one-point loss Payson suffered to Blue Ridge in the battle for the East region championship.
In that meet, Oct. 28 in Lakeside, Payson fell to the home standing Yellow Jackets, 39-38.
"One runner, one place better and we'd have been (region) champions," PHS assistant coach Chuck Yale said.
At the state meet, the Horns rebounded from that tough loss to out-duel the Yellow Jackets by 10 team points. Blue Ridge was sixth, with 166 points.
The Jackets did, however, field the state's top runner -- Matt Rowell. The Jacket star's clocking of 5:41 was two seconds quicker than that of runner-up Derrick Spencer of Window Rock.
In addition to Cluff's exceptional performance, the Horn cause received a boost from 14th place finisher Carlos Lopez and Carlan Pontious, who was 33rd.
Lopez was clocked in 18:01 and Pontius in 18:48.
All season long, Cluff, Lopez and Pontious have been Payson's top cross country runners, each taking a turn at being the squad's ace.
As heated as the season-long rivalry between the trio was, it remained friendly.
"And it was good for the rest of the team. They stepped it up because of them," coach Chuck Hardt said.
Also representing the Longhorns at state were Lee Perez (54th; 19:43), Daniel McGee (70th; 20:09), Bryson Addington (83rd; 20:50) and Jonny Malloy (105th; 22:07).
The state showdown marks the conclusion of a 2005 season that began Aug. 13 with the Town of Payson-sponsored Monsoon 5K run won by Cluff. Pontious was second and Lopez third.
A season highlight occurred Sept. 30 on Main Street at the annual Sludge to the Judge homecoming run.
The event turned into one of the most fiercely contested Sludge to the Judge runs, when Lopez nipped Pontious at the finish line by one second. Cluff was third, three seconds off Lopez's pace.
With the season at an end, many of the runners will turn their attention to winter sports.
Cluff and Perez are projected to be standouts on the Longhorn wrestling team. Lopez and Addington are on track toward becoming two of the varsity basketball team's finest players.