Mat battles featuring Longhorns Jacob Spear, Jacob Cluff and Ben Lee highlighted a fiercely contested Payson vs. Mogollon dual match held Jan. 5 in Heber-Overgaard.
Spear (125 lbs.) lost a thriller, 5-4, against Carl “Smiley” Beecroft of Mogollon who entered the fracas with a 15-0 record. The gutsy Payson grappler led 4-1 throughout most of the match before giving two near falls and a reversal with just 10 seconds remaining in the second period.
“Those were the deciding factor,” said PHS coach Casey Woodall.
The coach calls Lee’s 3-1 upset decision in the 140-pound class over Mogollon’s Dan Gaylor “the match of the night” mostly because Gaylor was the defending Class 2A state champion.
Cluff (130 lbs.) caught the attention of fans, fellow grapplers and coaches by pinning a Mogollon wrestler who had beaten him last year.
While all three Payson wrestlers shined, the Horns fell 41-33 to the Mustangs who are expected to contend for a section and division title.
“As a team, we made a lot of improvements since our last outing,” said Woodall. “We are still struggling in some areas; we need to get better on bottom and our younger guys, while much improved, still made some critical mistakes that cost them matches they should have won.”
For Payson, Austin Armstead (112 lbs.) and Chemo Vazquez (215 lbs.) won by falls.
Vazquez, usually a 189-pounder, moved up to a heavier weight class, Woodall said, “to get a match.”
Losing on falls were Zac Wilson (119 lbs.), Colton Ludtke (145 lbs.), Conner Anderson (152 lbs.) and Tanner Savage (171 lbs.). Gunner Bauer (160 lbs.) lost by a technical fall. Payson received a forfeit in the 135-pound class, but forfeited the 189-pound and heavyweight classes.
In junior varsity action, Dakota Harold and Kyle Brown won by falls and Daily Carnes lost on a fall.
Also at Mogollon, the Horns squared off against the St. Johns Redskins, losing 38-31 mostly because PHS gave up 18 forfeit points when the team could not field entrants in the 103-pound, 215-pound and heavyweight divisions.
Winning by falls for the Horns were Ludtke (145 lbs.), Anderson (152 lbs.) and Savage (171 lbs.).
Spear (125 lbs.) won on a technical fall, Armstead (112 lbs.) wrestled to a 17-10 victory and Lee (140 lbs.) won 14-3.
Wilson (119 lbs.) lost on a technical fall, Cluff (130 lbs.) dropped a 11-5 decision and Purtill (135 lbs.), Bauer (160 lbs.), Savage (170 lbs.) and Vazquez (189 lbs.) lost by falls.
In junior varsity action, Carnes and Harold won on falls and Kyle Brown pinned his opponent.
“We are making progress, but have a long way to go,” said Woodall following the team’s return to Payson.
The Horns return to action tomorrow, Jan. 12, when they travel to Wickenburg for the East-West Duals.
The tournament is a holdover from past seasons when the now-defunct Class 3A East and West regions annually put on some of the finest rivalry clashes in the conference.
In the tournament, former East region teams go head to head against former West teams in a dual match format.
Earlier this school year, the Arizona Interscholastic Association did away with the conference-region format and replaced it with a division-section alignment in which each sport received its own placement.
In wrestling, Payson was placed in Division III and then aligned in the 17-team Section II.
The troubling issue with PHS being placed in Division III is that the school, with its 788 students, will compete for statewide honors against much larger schools.
For example, also in the division with Payson High are Paradise Valley (1,603), Greenway (1,600), Thunderbird (1,561) and Mohave (1,551).
Longhorn coach Casey Woodall is not shying away from the challenge of competing against “big schools,” saying the division-placement alignment was long overdue.
On Jan. 14 and 15, Payson will be in Alamosa, Colo. for a varsity invitational.
A week later, Jan. 21-22, the Horns host the Payson Invitational, the Longhorns’ only home meet of the 2010-2011 season.