By Michael Kinney
OKLAHOMA CITY - Moore High’s Payton Thomas had faced Stillwater’s AJ Heeg once before.
The two were both juniors at the time and Heeg, who was wrestling at Edmond Memorial, prevailed on his way to winning his second state championship.
Despite that, when the pair faced off for the second time, Thomas knew what he had to do in order to come out on top. He had to make Heeg uncomfortable.
That is exactly what Thomas did Saturday at the Central Oklahoma Athletic Conference tournament at Southmoore High. The two battled for the 190-pound championship, and it was Thomas who walked away the winner in one of the most dramatic matches of the night.
“I knew he'd keep coming,” Thomas said. “But my goal was to break him, and I achieved that goal.”
When the match started, Heeg jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the first period and seemed to have everything under control.
However, that is not how Thomas or his coaching staff saw it. He exploded in the second period and began to get physical with Heeg, throwing him around the mat.
During one exchange, the two landed out of bounds and exchanged shoves as they got back up.
But Thomas kept coming, slowly closing the gap and turning the contest into a brawl. In wrestling terminology, he took Heeg into the deep waters.
“That's always been my plan with anybody,” Thomas said. “When I wrestle, I drag him to the deep water and drown him.
"Because that's where I go every practice, to the deep water. Every minute of every day.”
Heeg had to take three different injury and blood timeouts as his nose began to bleed and he appeared to have problems with his back.
After the third timeout, Heeg had no time left on the clock to rest. Moore coach Robert Washington had Thomas get in position and told the officials they were ready.
“The thing about Payton is he's not scared of anybody,” Washington said. “I knew it was going to be a tough one; (Heeg) is one of the best kids in the country. We were going to stay aggressive to beat him.
"And that's what was exactly what we did. I mean (Thomas) just stayed on him, didn't give him a chance to breathe.”
Heeg, who had been laying on his back, tried to stand. His coaches helped him up, but instead of heading back toward the center of the mat, they walked off and back to the locker room areas to end the match with an injury default at the 4:09 mark.
Thomas circled the mat, beating his chest and exchanging a few words with the Stillwater staff and wrestlers after having his hand raised as the COAC tourney champion.
“Down 5-1, I just know never to quit,” Thomas said. “Never to recede. Always after him. Always keep going.
"I knew he would probably take me down, but I can't quit. It's not in me. And I know this is only beginning and I'm coming for that state title. I'm coming for that crown.”
Along with the 190-pound tourney title, Thomas was named co-Most Valuable Wrestler of the tournament. But the future Navy wrestler was already looking ahead to a possible matchup with Heeg in the postseason and what this victory will mean.
“I hope he is shivering a little bit. I'm coming for it and he knows that,” Thomas said. “He knew it was going to be hard, and he knows it's still going to be hard.”
With the addition of No. 1 ranked Braydon Thompson to the Stillwater lineup, Heeg may have to move to a different weight class. SBLive currently has him ranked No. 12 in the 215-pound division.
But according to Washington, Thomas is ready to take on anybody who steps onto the mat with him as he goes for a state championship.
“I just have to keep going hard,” Thomas said. “Keep getting better. I'm getting better every day.
"And just continue, just continue the aggression, being relentless and just keep going.”
Thomas' efforts helped Moore to a fifth-place finish in the team standings. Stillwater was the team runner-up, behind champion Edmond North.