The heat of the East region wrestling title chase has been turned up a notch.
It received a boost of unexpected energy Jan. 18 at a multi-meet in Eagar-Springerville where the Longhorns avenged an early season loss to Show Low by upsetting the Cougars 54-25.
When the Cats clawed the Horns 36-33 Dec. 7 in Payson, the win earned Show Low the tag of region championship favorite.
Payson's upset reverses the tables and the Longhorns are now the odds-on choice to win the East crown.
The win over the Cougars, a long-time archrival of the Horns, was especially pleasing to PHS coach Rich Ormand.
"It was really nice to avenge our loss to Show Low," he said. "Our kids stepped up and were eager to get another shot at them before regionals and state."
What rendered the victory even sweeter is that the team members traveled to Eagar-Springerville not knowing they would face the Cougars.
"We didn't even know Show Low was going to be there," Ormand said.
In addition to besting the Cats in the multi-meet, Payson thumped Alchesay 77-6 and host Round Valley 54-11.
The three Horn victories, Ormand reasons, might be due to the strength of the PHS schedule.
"We have competed against some of the best 5A and 4A teams in the state and it has made us tougher," he said. "The kids are really starting to come together for a common goal of a state championship."
If the Horns can slip past Show Low once again in the regional championships, the biggest obstacle at state might be a southern Arizona team that eliminated the PHS football team from the state tournament with a 15-14 win.
"Safford will be tough to beat this year, but we are doing the right things at the right time of the season," Ormand said.
As the Horns prepare for the rigors of a run to the 3A crown, they are doing it at full strength.
"We finally got Don Engler (215) back in the lineup and David Cluff (145) should be back" Ormand said. "We absolutely need every tough kid in the lineup at the region and state tournaments."
Engler had been sidelined most of the season by a shoulder injury received while playing football. The injury eventually required surgery to remove a floating bone chip.
Cluff had been out of the lineup since injuring his ribs Jan. 4 at a Marana Mountain View meet.
Engler's return to the lineup earned him the Brutally Aggressive Grappler Uninhibited by Adversity (BAGUBA) award.
"Don had to overcome a lack of cardio-conditioning to fend off his Round Valley opponent in the last dual of the night," Ormand said. "But, you expect no less from Don; he is a fighter and will absolutely never give up no matter what the odds."
Engler finished 3-0 in the meet as did Taylor Byers (103), Tyler Goodman (125), Dan McGee (130), Lee Perez (135), Porter Wilbanks (140) and Steele Armstrong (189).
Jordan Bucher (119), Mark McCarty (145), Nick Goodman (152), Zach Rodgers (16), Troy Jenkins (171) and Oscar Chavez (275) were 2-1. Ryan Cox (112) was 0-3.
With the win at Eagar-Springerville in the record books, the Horns now focus on a Jan. 25 meet in Buckeye that has drawn some of the state's best teams.
Among them are Class 4A Division 1 top-ranked Thunderbird and 4A Division 2 second-ranked Mingus.
The East region tournament will be contested Feb. 4 in Holbrook and the state finals Feb. 10 and 11 at Glendale Arena.