A spectator watching the Class 3A 152-pound division championship match involving Payson's Mark McCarty and Kyle Pratt of Show Low might have said it best, "the monkey is finally off his back."
The Longhorn fan was referring to McCarty's winning the state title by a 13-1 major decision victory over Pratt.
The victory was chalked up Feb. 9 at the state tournament held at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale. As a team, Payson High finished sixth out of the 26-team field.
Until McCarty's victory, a state championship had eluded him during his four-year mat career at PHS.
McCarty, a senior honor student, entered high school as one of the most accomplished wrestlers in youth programs and at Rim Country Middle School.
During his first three years at PHS, he battled through a series of hobbling injuries to win tournament, region and state honors but never the top prize.
Last year, McCarty won the East region title but had to settle for third at state.
As a 145-pound sophomore, McCarty was also third.
In 2005, when Payson High was a member of the 4A conference Grand Canyon region, McCarty was a freshman third-team all-GCR selection, but not a state placer.
Rendering Saturday's victory in the state finals doubly sweet for McCarty was that he dominated a foe who had beaten him a week earlier in the East region championships in Show Low.
"Mark really wanted to win that match and the championship," PHS coach Dave LaMotte said.
The loss to Pratt in the regional showdown dropped McCarty to a state tournament second-seed.
He opened pursuit of the state title Feb. 7 by defeating South third seed Sam Pennington of Florence.
Following that victory, he won both quarterfinal and semifinal matches to set up the gold-medal showdown.
In staking claim to the 152-pound crown, McCarty joins a foursome of other Longhorns who have won the state title in that weight class. They include Mike Armstrong (1999), Caleb Miller (2001), Nate Lee (2002) and Zach Lee (2003)
In addition to McCarty's state title, the Horn cause received second place team points from Bryan Burke. In the championship finale of the 215-pound division, Burke lost a 14-3 major decision to defending state champion Derrick Gonzales of Coolidge.
Burke beat Winslow's Adam Larsen in the semifinals to earn a spot in the championship.
During the tournament, Burke finished with a 3-1 record.
Among the132-pounders, sophomore Ben Sandoval wrestled his way to a fourth place finish in a rugged class that included eventual champ John Casas of Safford (45-2).
Freshman Ben Lee, the East's second seed, opened with upsets of Chino Valley's Jason Rhead and North champion Kyle John of Ganado but had to settle for a fifth place showing.
In the 142-pound mat wars, PHS senior Isaac Cluff grappled his way to fourth place.
Cluff finished the season 44-10.
Junior Nick Goodman took a 29-8 record and a third seed into the 160-pound weight division that was won by once beaten Tyrel Andrews of Safford.
Goodman finished fifth overall.
The efforts of the Payson state entrants earned the Longhorns a sixth-place finish in the 26-team field.
The Horns tallied 119.50 points. Four-time defending state champion Safford, posted 225.50 points.
Blue Ridge (170.50) was second and Winslow (156.5) third.
Show Low edged the Horns for fourth place by 3.5 points.
The team will gather one final time at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 27 in the Payson High School cafeteria for the annual awards ceremony. The event is open to the public.