Few doubts remain that the East region was the most competitive of the four housed in the 3A conference.
Rock-solid proof of the spirited play that has gone on all season long turned up May 13 at Mesa High School, where the Class 3A boy's track and field championships were held.
A pair of East teams -- Snowflake and Lakeside Blue Ridge -- tied for first place with 74 points each.
The two narrowly beat the defending state champion Longhorns, who finished third with 72 points. A week earlier in the East region championships in Snowflake, Payson handily whipped both the Lobos and Yellow Jackets on the way to the Horns' third region title in four years.
At state, however, the Longhorns couldn't muster the crucial few points the team needed to win its second successive state title.
The narrow loss didn't set well with Horn team members.
"They were upset. They wanted to go out as champions," coach Chuck Hardt said.
In finishing third, the team was without its best pole-vaulter, Nick Goodman, and also suffered a serious blow when the East champion 4x800 relay team finished a close second to a Tuba City Warriors foursome.
TC was clocked in at 8:08.51 and the Payson team of Carlos Lopez, Josh Lymer, Jourdain Wood and Carlan Pontious was right behind them with 8:09.06.
In addition to Pontious running a leg on the relay, he won gold medals in both the 800 (1:57.60) and 1600 meters (4:26.71).
Pontious' time in the 800 was a personal record and drew comparisons to former Longhorn-great middle distance runner, Mark Hochstetler, who set school records in the late 1980s.
"Carlan's absolutely the best since (Hochstetler)," Hardt said.
As impressive as Pontious' sizzling times in the 800, 1600 and on the 4x800 relay team were, it might have been his endurance in the searing Valley heat that is most striking.
Along with the trio of events, he also finished fifth in the grueling 3200 meters, with a time of 10:03.24.
Doing well in four distance events in a state-caliber meet is a Herculean accomplishment few prep athletes ever accomplish.
"He doesn't seem to ever run out of energy," sad assistant coach Kenny Hayes.
In addition to the efforts of Pontious, the Horns received eight team points from Robert Walker, who was second in the high jump at 6 feet, 2 inches.
Sophomore Cody York tacked on five more points by finishing fourth at 6 feet.
In the shot put, senior Morgan Cassuto contributed six points with a third-place finish, with a heave of 49 feet.
Cassuto entered the fray as the East region titlist at 51 feet, 0.25 inches.
By uncorking a throw of 44 feet, 0.25 inches, Payson's Scott Andrus was eighth.
In the pole vault, without East silver medalist Goodman, the Horns settled for fourth-place points. Daniel McGee garnered the points, after soaring over the bar at 12 feet, 6 inches.
In the 4x400 relay, the team of Brandon Alexander, Nate Doyle Chase Sevey and Carlos Lopez was seventh in 3:32.34. Alexander, Sevey, Doyle and Levi Neal hooked up in the 4x100 for a sixth-place finish.
The team will gather one final time at 6 p.m. May 17 at Payson Elementary School for the annual season-ending awards ceremony.