When is a tie not a tie?
It occurs when one opponent gives up forfeit points and, because of those, is relegated to the role of the defeated.
Such was the case Feb. 21 in Wilson Dome where the inaugural Arizona State Wrestling Team Tournament pitted the top eight 3A teams against one another in head-to-head duals.
In matches actually wrestled in a first-round dual sending No. 2 Holbrook against No. 7 Payson, the Longhorns and Roadrunners dead knotted 23-23.
But because Payson forfeited six matches and 36 points, the Runners advanced in the tournament with a 59-23 victory.
Forfeits were the Longhorns’ nemesis all season long because PHS could not field athletes in four weight classes.
The situation worsened in the state tournament when the Horns forfeited two more matches. One was because a wrestler was absent due to a death in his family, and the other was due to an athlete’s suspension for a team rules infraction.
Although the forfeits were tough on the team, they did little to dampen first-year coach Travis Kopenhafer’s enthusiasm for his wrestlers.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better group of kids,” he said. “The thing that impressed me most about them is how they handled themselves — they acted like men whether they won or lost.”
Individually, a Longhorn highlight occurred in the 103-pound battles where freshman Jake Spear pinned Holbrook’s Ruben Serna.
Last week during the state individual tournament held in Prescott Valley, Spear lost a highly controversial 10-7 decision to Serna that had Longhorn coaches, parents, school administrators and team members fuming.
Most returned to Payson saying Spear had been robbed of a victory by highly questionable officiating.
Film reviews of the match seemed to confirm suspicions that Spear should have been victorious and advanced to the state championship final.
Serna’s dubious win, however, was deemed a moot point Saturday when Spear took the battle to the Holbrook grappler, pinning him in the third period.
The win drew praise from Kopenhafer.
“Jake is only a freshman but he is so mature,” he said. “The loss (at Prescott Valley) just made him more determined.”
Equally as exciting as Spear’s revenge match was 152-pound state champion Nick Goodman’s pin of Holbrook’s James Lerna, a fourth-place finisher at Prescott Valley.
With Goodman’s parents and grandparents cheering his every move, the PHS senior manhandled Lerna to a 15-point lead before pinning him.
“It was a good win but kind of sloppy,” said Goodman after leaving the mat. “I should have (pinned) him earlier.”
The victory culminated Goodman’s four-year wrestling career at Payson High School.
In the160-pound division, junior Derek Williams pulled off another upset coming from behind to pin Holbrook’s Scott Tafoya, the North region runner-up and state sixth-place finisher.
“That’s the way Derek has been all season long, he gets behind, then comes back to win by a pin,” Kopenhafer said.
Safford Bulldogs bite
In other first-round duals, No. 3 Blue Ridge whipped No. 6 Parker, and Winslow (No. 5) nudged No. 4 Show Low.
The match was tied 36-36 at the end of competition, but Winslow won the tie-breaker, 37-36, on “most first points scored in matches.”
Safford got off and running in the first round with a 55-12 win over Round Valley.
In the final four, Safford advanced with a 59-15 victory over Winslow, and Holbrook thumped Blue Ridge, 46-29.
Safford, a team some say is the best in the state regardless of school size classification, won the team championship, defeating Holbrook 40-25.