MACON — A day characterized by endurance and emotion also witnessed a celebration of the talent that Northwest Georgia has when it comes to wrestling on the toughest stage.
And there were plenty of accolades for those from Floyd County.
Wrestling in the finals of the GHSA Traditional Wrestling State Tournament on Saturday in Macon, Armuchee, Darlington and Pepperell each had two wrestlers crowned state champions in their respective divisions.
The day also proved to be one where finishing strong became an important aspect of many matches involving local wrestlers.
In Class AA, Armuchee freshman Wes Conley won the 113-pound championship after earning a 6-4 sudden victory over Model’s Walker Byrd after the pair was tied 4-4 after the regulation three periods.
Meanwhile, 182-pounder Jacob Henderson gave the Indians a second state champion with a strategic 13-6 victory over East Laurens’ Zyshonne Holliman.
Pepperell’s Jake Ross (170) and Hinton Bolinger (285) both won state championships thanks to late points, with Bolinger picking up on a miscue by Screven County’s CJ Wright to grab a takedown in the final seconds of their title bout for a 4-2 win.
“It means so much,” Bolinger said of capping off his senior season with a state title. “I’ve worked for it for four years. It’s what you work for. No matter if it’s one, two, three or four state championships, it means so much.”
Jaxon Croy came close to giving the Dragons a trio of state champions, but the 145-pound wrestler’s final move that would have tied the match at two points apiece was called as coming after the final buzzer.
Still, all of Pepperell’s state qualifiers came through a tough stretch of three consecutive weekends of competition, with area and sectionals leading up to the state tournament.
“I’ve never had a state finalist, so to have three here and two state champions out of three going back to Lindale is pretty freaking awesome,” Pepperell coach Joe Knight said. “All four of our guys wrestled well this weekend. Ethan Sharpe went 0-2, but he’s a sophomore, so it shows promise in the future.”
In Class A, Darlington’s Dalton Blankenship (113) and Colton Woods (126) both won their second-straight state championships with some last-minute stamina.
Blankenship was losing to Karlos Nadal of Mt. Pisgah after two periods in his finals match before coming back and posting a 7-4 win. Woods, meanwhile, battled to nearly a stalemate with defending champion Kole Burchett of Commerce except for an escape in the second period that ended up being the deciding factor.
“Colton had an incredible match,” Darlington coach Kelly McDurmon said. “To wrestle a state champion and shut him out, 1-0, was a real chess match. I was impressed with the way he rode the kid and kept him broke down the whole time.”
Darlington wrestlers Davis Peek (132) and Rhett McDurmon (145) both kept their championship matches close but were unable to pick up the win.
All four Tigers will be back next season.
Chattooga's Griffin Jarrett won at 106 pounds in a 21-12 decision over Kevin Martin of Fitzgerald.
Overall, 28 wrestlers from Rome, Floyd County, Chattooga County and Rockmart finished in the top six of their weight class at the three-day event.
Trion, which had three wrestlers finish second in their division and five others finish in the top six, took second in the overall Class A team standings with 98 points. Darlington was fifth at 81.5.
Aside for state champions Conley and Henderson, Armuchee’s Trace Daitz finished third at 152 pounds, while Riley Purdy (106) and Luke Purdy (126) came in fifth and sixth, respectively. The Indians led the local Class AA teams with fifth in the standings with 71 points, followed by Chattooga (66.5) and Pepperell (63).
“Your goal is to have every wrestler you bring place, and we placed five out of six,” Armuchee coach Joey Harris said. “I couldn’t be prouder of this group of guys. We’ll celebrate, and we’ll go back to work.”