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Payson’s unlikely run continues

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Payson players celebrate after defeating American Fork on Friday.

Payson players celebrate after defeating American Fork on Friday.

Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News

WEST VALLEY CITY — Teams who compile a 3-8 preseason record are supposed to eke their way into the state tournament, then get blasted in the first round.

They're not supposed to march into the semifinals, and then have their star player sink a turnaround 5-foot bank shot to send the school to its first state championship game since 1972.

Don't tell Payson they weren't supposed to accomplish all that.

Tyler Newbold drained that exact shot — in addition to getting fouled — with 1.5 seconds remaining to lead Payson past American Fork 43-40 and into the 4A state championship game Saturday.

"We believed all along this was something we could accomplish if we came together as a team," said Payson coach Dan Lunt.

Payson will battle Provo for the state championship at 7:30 p.m. in the E Center.

"We're going against Provo, a very tradition-rich program. We're glad to go out for the opportunity to complete for a state championship," said Lunt.

That opportunity seemed very unlikely midway through the fourth quarter.

When Rick Shoff buried a 3-pointer to put American Fork ahead 37-31 with 3:32 remaining, a comeback seemed highly unlikely considering how well the Cavemen shoot free throws.

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Newbold answered Shoff's trey with a jumper of his own to shave the deficit to 37-33, but the Lions fouled Shoff with 2:39 remaining, and everyone just assumed he'd make both. He made 1-of-2.

"We told the kids in the huddle, 'How bad do you want it,' " said Lunt.

The pep talk was all the motivation Newbold needed.

"It affected me a lot," he said. "You don't get in this position. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Payson cut the deficit to 38-35 on a pair free throws from Brett Hiatt, the quarterfinal hero. After a missed 3-pointer by American Fork, Jeremiah Johnson recorded a layup to trim the margin to 38-37 with 1:44 remaining.

The Lions' pressure defense immediately forced American Fork into a turnover, which Blake Francom turned into a 3-point play to give Payson the improbable 40-38 lead.

After the teams exchanged steals, American Fork tied the game at 40-40 on a layup by Brenan Davis. With about 30 seconds remaining, Payson's coach elected not to call a time-out.

"I'm a firm believer that when you call a time-out, the favor goes to the defense," said Lunt. "If you keep the clock running, that favors the offense."

Newbold, who finished with a game-high 17 points, made his coach look like a genius with his three-point play in the final second on a pass from Johnson. Shoff led American Fork with 15 points, while Clayton Searle and Davis each chipped in with 10.

E-mail: jedward@desnews.com