The Valley's searing desert heat took its toll on the Longhorn soccer team's quest to advance to the second round of the class 3A state tournament.
Playing Sept 26 in Tempe's 90-degree-plus temperatures, the Horns lost 2-1 to the Wilcox Cowboys, mostly because PHS coach Chad Gower could not keep his regulars on the field, due to heat fatigue.
"I had to continuously sub players in that had not played in any of our games," Gower said. "The boys were just not used to that type of weather and I believe it seriously put us back, as Wilcox is in the southern part of the state and its players are acclimated to the heat."
Although the Longhorn lost, the team opened the state game with their sights firmly set on a "W".
"Our goalie (Anthony Pearce) and our entire defense showed up ready to play," Gower said. "Isaac Cluff completely shut down the leading scorer in the state."
But, having Cluff step up defensively was nothing new for the Longhorns. "I knew Isaac could be counted on as a physical presence, so I asked him to cover their key player and he did a great job of not allowing him any good shots or assists," Gower said. The coach also lauded Chad Lammers and Brandon Moratti's defense that helped keep the halftime score dead knotted at 0-0.
Although Payson did not score in the opening half, Nic Creighton, Gabriel Batista and Aaron Loeffler had opportunities for goals, but could not convert, Gower said.
After halftime, Payson turned aggressive offensively, thanks to heady play from David Hernandez and Batista.
"They led a charge right off the kick off," Gower said. "Eventually Wilcox made a mistake and allowed Gabriel to feed Aaron for the first goal of the game."
Gower called Loeffler "someone I can count on to be aggressive and in the goalie's face, creating opportunities."
About 10 minutes after Loeffler's goal, however, Wilcox tallied the winning goal by out-hustling Payson reserves to the ball.
"Due to the heat, young players such as Caleb Harrison, Derek Williams and Ben Rogers had to step up and play in positions not accustomed to," Gower said.
Wilcox, which entered the tournament as the South region champion, eventually scored the second and winning goal to beat the exhausted Longhorns.
"It was like our state game last year against Sedona,"Gower said. "We came out with the first goal, we were not able to hold on for the victory."
The Horns wrapped up the season with a 12-9-1 record in Gower's first year as head coach.
"I want to thank our friends and sponsors for supporting us this year," he said.
Gower is asking that anyone who has pictures of game action to e-mail them to him at email@example.com.
He plans to create a souvenir DVD for the team members.
For more information, call Gower at (928) 474-2233.