OREM — All year long, Tyson Carter has taken energy, motivation and momentum from his teammates, who have made a habit of winning — and pinning — in each tournament and dual meet before he steps up to the mat at 170 pounds.
On Saturday night, it was time to return the favor.
Needing a win for morale and a spiritual boost — though not necessarily points in the standing — Carter went out and held on for a 7-6 win in the 170-pound weight class, putting an exclamation point on a dominant performance at the Class 4A state wrestling tournament at the UCCU Center in Orem.
“We’re probably the scrappiest bunch of kids I’ve ever met (at Payson),” Carter said. “We’ve been wrestling in that room ever since I was five, and I think we have a bigger brotherhood than anyone in the state.
“We beat the crap out of each other every day to get better. We don’t wrestle for ourselves; we wrestle for our team. When we get put on the back side of the bracket, we know we’ve got to put points up.”
Carter was the Lions’ only state champion Saturday night. But Payson celebrated as a team on top of the podium thanks to five runners-up and four wrestlers who lost in the semifinals earlier Saturday morning and battled back to earn a spot on the medals stand.
Cole Jensen (113), Deegan Palmer (120), Wyatt Hone (126), Tucker Naccarato (160) and McCoy Cook (220) all placed second for Payson, which got third-place efforts from Brock Loveless (145) and Tyler Knapp (152), a fourth-place finish from Jorge Sanchez (132), and a fifth-place finish from Braxton Monroe.
Uintah finished second with 222.5 points, led by a trio of state champions in Brady Merkley (106), Gavin Ayotte (132) and Bridger Bennion (145). Bear River (153), Canyon View (143) and Mountain Crest (118.5) rounded out the top five.
It was the right amount of depth to lead the Lions to their first title since winning back-to-back championships in 2014-15.
And it almost didn’t happen; on the opening night of the tournament, Payson coach Jeb Clark was mistakenly ejected from the arena in a case of mistaken identity. It followed a quarterfinal round where the Lions lost more than they anticipated.
But Clark was quickly reinstated, and the Lions had a chance to respond.
Boy, did they.
“We had a rough patch last night, and we had a choice to pick it up and wrestle — or go home,” Clark said. “But they came out and had a great semifinal round. This team has been special all year; every time we needed a big win, someone comes in and gets it for us.
“Everywhere we’ve gone, they’ve done it all year. I’m proud of them.”
Carter’s final match, then, was a fitting end to the Lions’ title quest. The senior led Canyon View’s Braydon Cavalieri 6-1 in the third period, but the challenger from Cedar City fought back and tied the match in the final minute.
Instead of hanging his head, though, Carter looked for an opening, found it with seconds on the clock, and stood up for a crucial escape that proved to be the winning point as he held on for his life.
“I just had to stay strong,” Carter said. “He got the takedown, but I figured, ‘I’m a senior, and it’s now or never.’
“I just stood up, and I knew it. It was a big point — I went fo fit, he made a mistake, and the ref was counting down the time. Just hold on for dear life.”
Ayotte, who clinched the 132-pound title with a 4-2 decision over Hurricane’s Caleb Armstrong, became Uintah’s first three-time state champion since 1992, according to the UHSAA record book.
Orem’s Cooper Legas successfully defended his 195-pound state title after leading the Tigers to back-to-back 4A football titles — and before heading off to play quarterback for Gary Andersen and Utah State.
Tooele’s Joseph Mecham (113), Bear River’s Scott Robertson (126), Desert Hills’ Ryker Boyce (138), Canyon View’s Brady Lowry (152), Salem Hills’ Chyler Zeeman (160) and Merrell Morley (182), Cedar’s Nathan Ellis (220) and Mountain View’s David Herring (285) all won individual state titles.
Payson 238.5, Uintah 222.5, Bear River 153, Canyon View 143, Mountain Crest 118.5, Salem Hills 99, Hurricane 91, Desert Hills 89.5, Cedar 88, Mountain View 79.5, Spanish Fork 73, Ridgeline 61.5, Sky View 55, Orem 45, Stansbury 40.5, Snow Canyon 38, Tooele 32, Green Canyon 21, Dixie 17, Park City 11, Juan Diego 10.5, Pine View 6, Bonneville 4, Lehi 4, Logan 3, Ogden 1.
106 — Brady Merkley, Uintah, d. Trenton Ward, Bear River, 9-3.
113 — Joseph Mecham, Tooele, d. Cole Jensen, Payson, 9-6.
120 — Scott Robertson, Bear River, d. Deegan Palmer, Payson, 17-2.
126 — Gabe Sanders, Mountain Crest, d. Wyatt Hone, Payson, 4-1.
132 — Gavin Ayotte, Uintah, d. Caleb Armstrong, Hurricane, 4-2.
138 — Ryker Boyce, Desert Hills, d. Chance Parker, Ridgeline, 9-5.
145 — Bridger Bennion, Uintah, d. Ryan Larsen, Salem Hills, 3-0.
152 — Brady Lowry, Canyon View, p. Michael Anker, Cedar, 1:31.
160 — Chyler Zeeman, Salem Hills, d. Tucker Naccarato, Payson, 5-2.
170 — Tyson Carter, Payson, d. Braydon Cavalieri, Canyon View, 7-6.
182 — Merrell Morley, Salem Hills, d. Gavin Carter, Canyon View, 13-5.
195 — Cooper Legas, Orem, d. Ben Boyack, Spanish Fork, 10-4.
220 — Nathan Ellis, Cedar, d. McCoy Cook, Payson, 6-2.
285 — David Herring, Mountain View, d. Sam Dawe, Spanish Fork, 3-1.