Sometimes underdogs just rise up and take a chunk out of the hind ends of big favorites.
Remember the Miracle on Ice, the Jets Super Bowl win over the Colts or Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson?
All were huge upsets, as was the one that unfolded Saturday, Oct. 27 at Kino Field in Tucson, where Payson ambushed Tucson Alta Vista 4-2 in the quarterfinals of the Division IV state soccer tournament.
The Longhorns, out of Section III, entered the postseason fray with a 7-3-3 record and a No. 5 seed.
Undefeated Alta Vista (9-0), a Section I school, was considered the home team with its higher, No. 4 seed.
Although AV wasn’t severely tested most of the season— winning some matches by scores of 9-0, 8-0, 7-0 and 5-0 — the Lobos were simply no match for the battle-hardened Longhorns, who jumped out to a 1-0 lead on Jeff Kelley’s goal and then continued to pile it on.
Richard Neilson added two more goals to make the score 3-0 before Ismon White tacked on a final insurance goal.
“We cruised pretty easily,” said coach Chris Avakian. “I don’t think they’d played anyone very highly ranked.”
Conversely, Payson entered the postseason having tied defending state champion and state No. 2 ranked Blue Ridge twice.
The Horns also split two games with No. 3 seeded Chino Valley. On Oct. 13, Payson’s 1-0 win knocked the then-undefeated Cougars out of the No. 1 ranking.
With the win over Alta Vista, Payson advances to the state tournament’s final four and will play yet another huge favorite — No. 1 ranked and undefeated Desert Christian at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2 at Gilbert Campo Verde High School.
In the other final four bracket, Chino Valley plays Blue Ridge at 5 p.m., also at Campo Verde.
The state championship game is set for 2:30 p.m. Nov. 3 at Campo Verde.
Payson’s berth in the semifinals marks the second successive season the team has reached the final four, having been there last year before being ousted by Blue Ridge.
The Horns advanced to the quarterfinal game vs. Alta Vista with a pulsating 3-3 penalty kick, sudden death win over Camp Verde in a state first-round game played Oct. 25 in Payson.
With top-ranked Desert Christian, Blue Ridge and Chino Valley standing in the Horns’ path to the school’s first outright state championship, Avakian realizes his players are facing a formidable challenge. “We have our work cut out for us.”