Payson is no stranger to success under coach Jeb Clark, with the program winning 3A titles in 2014 and 2015, and then a 4A title in 2019.
Winning the 5A title on Thursday night at Wasatch High School in Heber City might’ve trumped them all.
Payson’s depth throughout the one-day tournament led to 15 state placers and one individual state champ as the Lions racked up 265 points, easily finishing ahead of second-place Box Elder’s 205.5 points. Host Wasatch finished third with 182.5 points.
“It’s awesome. Winning it in all of them is good, but winning it in this one with Wasatch and Box Elder, big schools like that, it makes for really good competition,” said Clark.
Payson’s lone individual champ came in the first match of the championship finals, with junior Aaron Garcia pinning Farmington’s Jacob Waddoups in the second round.
Payson narrowly missed out on two other individual champs, with Layne Shepherd (126) losing in overtime of his final, and then Deegan Palmer (132) losing in the closing seconds of the third period.
“That’s the hardest part about the state tournament is I’ve never had it not be bittersweet. We’ve won state championships, but you’re so sad for the kids that lose, who didn’t achieve the goal they wanted to be state champs,” said Clark.
Despite the lack of individual champs, having five third-place finishes and numerous other state placers help Payson accumulate points all day.
“It was a real team effort. It wasn’t five studs that just punched all of our points for us. Our JV guys, we had kids that didn’t place still scored points for us,” said Clark.
Payson’s lone champ, Garcia, didn’t even participate at state last year — he was too busy boxing.
The aspiring MMA fighter missed the 5A Divisional qualifying tournament last season to participate in the National Silver Gloves boxing tournament in Nebraska, a tournament he said he proudly won. That win made sitting in the stands and watching his Payson teammates finish second at state to Wasatch a little easier to swallow.
Garcia previously was ranked second nationally in his boxing weight class, but after moving up to 108 pounds recently he’s been able to prove himself again against bigger competition, something he’ll get a chance to do at a national tournament in Louisiana next month.
Garcia’s dad operates the Maximus Boxing Gym in Payson and has trained and coached many MMA fighters in the past. Garcia has grown up around the sport, and he hopes his background in wrestling and boxing paves the way for a future career in MMA.
“It was a real team effort. It wasn’t five studs that just punched all of our points for us. Our JV guys, we had kids that didn’t place still scored points for us.” — Payson coach Zeb Clark
On Thursday, Garcia said a previous loss to Waddoups at the 5A duels last month was plenty of motivation for the final.
“It motivated me so much because I didn’t want to lose again, that’s for sure. I knew I had nothing to lose so I just went out there and had fun and did my best,” said Garcia.
Box Elder may have finished second as a team, but it shined under the dim lights of the finals by winning all five of its championship matches — Jackson Ricks (113), Bridger Ricks (120), Caleb Marx (170), Lucas Cochran (195) and Kellen Collier (285).
Collier’s win at 285 pounds in the tournament finale was the perfect ending to a night of thrilling matches as he beat Mountain View’s Christopher Esparza with a stacked pin at the 8:30 mark of sudden victory overtime.
“I’ve never done that before,” said Collier about his unorthodox pin.
Collier was seconds away from winning the match in regulation, but he was whistled for a stall warning which forced overtime.
“It’s the people who fight through that, and fight through the crappiness that get the win, I shrugged it off,” said Collier.
Collier had the disadvantage of being on top for the final overtime, but he shrugged that off too and said, “Time for you to use your big boy strength.”
Box Elder’s Bridger Ricks won his 120-pound match for this third individual state title. The junior finished with a 40-2 record and will have a chance to go for his fourth individual title next year.
Marx’s win at 170 pounds was a lesson in perseverance. Trailing 9-4 with 30 seconds left in the match, he recorded a late reversal and near fall to tie the score at 9-9, and then won it 11-9 with a takedown in the dying seconds.
Cochran, the state’s top wrestler, dominated as expected in his 195-pound match, beating Wasatch’s Mason Hulme with a pin at 2:55.
“A little bit tired for sure. I feel really good, I felt like I did my moves pretty good. I’m pretty happy with my finishings,” said Cochran, who finished the season with a perfect 37-0 record. It was the second straight perfect season for the Air Force commit.
Cochran admitted that sometimes his matches get a bit routine, “but Mason is a good wrestler and he battled pretty tough. It was fun wrestling him.”
Earlier in the night, two other thrilling matches came in succession at 126 and 132 pounds, with Payson coming up short in both.
Maple Mountain’s Brock Morris edged Payson’s Shepherd 10-8 in overtime, denying Shepherd a repeat title. Immediately after, Viewmont’s Karson Rees beat Palmer 6-5 in a highly-entertaining match that featured two reversals in the last 10 seconds.
When Rees hit his back on a reversal to go down 5-4, he caught a quick glance at the clock and saw that he had nine seconds left to pull off a miracle.
“To be honest, my heart sank a little bit, but it’s not over ‘til the time’s out so I knew I had to do something big, something funky, I had nothing to lose,” said Rees. “I just knew I had to scoot my hips away from hips a little bit, hook that elbow and roll with everything I had.”
Mountain View senior twin brothers Radi Stafford (182) and Elijah Stafford (220) both capped their high school careers with individual state titles.
Other individual champs were Woods Cross’ Colton Erickson (138), Murray’s Conway Christensen (145), Viewmont’s Moses Espinoza-Owens (152) and Mountain Ridge’s Jaden Stange (160).
5A state championship
At Wasatch High School
1. Payson, 268
2. Box Elder, 205.5
3. Wasatch, 182.5
4. Mountain Ridge, 146.5
5. Mountain View, 124
6. Viewmont, 114.5
7. Farmington, 78
8. Woods Cross, 74
- 106 – 1. Aaron Garcia, Payson; 2. Jacob Waddoups, Farmington; 3. Brandon Waddoups, Farmington; 4. Hudson Palmer, Farmington; 5. Spencer Lee, Viewmont; 6. Jack Goodrich, Woods Cross
- 113 — 1. Jackson Ricks, Box Elder; 2. Gable Stoddard, Mountain View; 3. Kyison Garcia, Mountain Ridge; 4. Parker Hayes, Wasatch; 5. Danny Reyes, Mountain Ridge; 6. Eduardo Cabrera, Payson
- 120 — 1. Bridger Ricks, Box Elder; 2. Heath Clyde, Wasatch; 3. Ethan Boulton, Payton; 4. Colton Theobald, Payson; 5. Cody Burr, Mountain View; 6. Jared Miller, Park City.
- 126 — 1. Brock Morris, Maple Mountain; 2. Layne Shepherd, Payson; 3. Charlie Donaldson, Box Elder; 4. Austin Kelly, Wasatch; 5. Wyatt Romriell, Box Elder; 6. William Dixon, Payson.
- 132 — 1. Karson Rees, Viewmont; 2. Deegaan Palmer, Payson; 3. Deegan Palmer, Payson; 4. Ryan Bullough, Payson; 5. Jaxon Bearden, Mountain Ridge; 6. Isaac Orrock, Murray.
- 138 — 1. Colton Erickson, Woods Cross; 2. Bryson Lloyd, Wasatch; 3. Preston Stevens, Mountain Ridge; 4. Andrew Weakley, Springville; 5. River Wardle, Wasatch; 6. Bridger Warren, Spanish Fork.
- 145 — 1. Conway Christensen, Murray; 2. Clayton Orton, Spanish Fork; 3. Trevor Frank, Payson; 4. Noah Roylance, Wasatch; 5. Grant Knudsen, Timpanogos; 6. Kelton Smith, Payson.
- 152 — 1. Moses Espinoza-Owens, Viewmont; 2. Rylan Stevens, Mountain Ridge; 3. Moses Espinoza-Owens, Viewmont; 4. Izaac Wetzel, Spanish Fork; 5. Darion Wesche, Farmington; 6. Layne Osborn, Payson.
- 160 — 1. Jaden Stange, Mountain Ridge; 2. Marcus Espinoza-Owens, Viewmont; 3. Landen Shurtleff, Payson; 4. Cody Stewart, Mountain Ridge; 5. Christian Slack, Wasatch; 6. Coleman Crockett, Spanish Fork.
- 170 — 1. Caleb Marz, Box Elder; 2. Gabe Barraza, Alta; 3. Mark Rausch, Mountain Ridge; 4. Alex Zesiger, Viewmont; 5. Quinlin Jackson, Maple Mountain; 6. Monson Morley, Salem Hills
- 182 — 1. Radi Stafford, Mountain View; 2. Conner Morris, Timpview; 3. Christian Smoot, Woods Cross; 4. Andrew Jensen, Maple Mountain; 5. William McCleary, Lehi; 6. Corbin Carlson, Timpanogos.
- 195 — 1. Lucas Cochran, Box Elder; 2. Mason Hulme, Wasatch; 3. Tate Christensen, Payson; 4. Alejandro Quezada, Springville; 5. Hunter Rasmussen, Spanish Fork; 6.Cash Henderson, Woods Cross.
- 220 — 1. Elijah Stafford, Mountain View; 2. Cael Richardson, Timpview; 3. Stone Combs, Park City; 4. Braxton Monroe, Payson; 5. Sau Tafisi, East; 6. Breydon Jorgensen, Timpanogos.
- 285 — 1. Kellen Collier, Box Elder; 2. Christopher Esparza, Mountain View; 3. Jeff Durrant, Payson; 4. Jayden Olsen, Alta; 5. Isaac Terrell, Lehi; 6. Tyler Knaak, Brighton.