It also comes at a good time for the host Tigers.
Saturday’s event at Darlington’s Huffman Center gave the Tigers some much-needed time on their home mats ahead of the school hosting the Area 4-A tournament next weekend. Darlington will also host one of the two Class A sectional qualifiers leading into the GHSA Traditional State Championships in Macon.
“This tournament right here allows us to get comfortable wrestling in our gym,” Darlington head coach Kelly McDurmon said. “For my kids, they love wrestling at home, so when they wrestle at home they want to show out for their friends and they want to do well so it adds a little bit of incentive for us to do well here heading into the state tournament at Macon.”
The tournament also allowed the Tigers a chance to get back into action after having to sit out the Area 4-A Duals at Trion two weeks ago. Several of Darlington’s wrestlers were unable to compete because of sickness, and McDurmon said his team was eager to be able to wrestle in the upcoming area competition.
“I feel great that we’re hosting it,” McDurmon said. “It means that our kids can sleep in their beds, be comfortable and stay in their routine. A couple of them felt like they got cheated because of health problems, but I’d much rather have gotten ill then than at this time of the season.”
Darlington placed six wrestlers in the semifinals of Saturday’s tournament, which featured 17 schools, and came away with four first-place finishers.
Three-time state champions Dalton Blankenship and Colton Woods both took first with Blankenship pinning Pepperell’s Landon Camp in the 132-pound weight class final, and Woods (138) pinning Arab’s Garrett McClendon. Other first-place finishers for Darlington were Carl McDurmon (120), who topped Strong Rock Christian’s Brandon Shelnutt, and Tyler Ingram (145), who got by Locust Grove’s Hunter Moats in a 6-5 decision.
The Tigers tied with Locust Grove in the team standings with 181 points, while Benjamin Russell (Ala.) finished in third place with 155.
In the second Pepperell-Darlington matchup in the finals, Jack Bennett beat Darlington’s Garrett Sheffield in the 182-pound championship match by pin helping the Dragons take fifth as a team.
“He wrestled hard,” Pepperell head coach Joe Knight said of Bennett. “Sometimes he doubts himself. I’m always yelling at him to wrestle to win instead of wrestle not to lose, because there’s a huge difference between the two. He’s just got to believe he can win every match.”
Pepperell’s Ivan Arguello won a major decision over Willy Allen of North Paulding in the 126-pound final, giving the Dragons another first-place finish.
Armuchee’s Wes Conley took first in the 113-pound weight class in a minor decision over Cage Leddon of Locust Grove, and Rome’s Bryant Wilkinson defeated Model’s A.J. Woods by pin at 195. Model and Armuchee took ninth and 10th place respectively, with Coosa finishing in 15th and Rome taking 16th.
Second-place finisher Pepperell’s Ethan Sharpe (152) fell to Benjamin Russell’s Saxon Coker, and Darlington’s Rhett McDurmon (170) won his first three matches by pin before forfeiting to Locust Grove’s Clark Leddon in the final.