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Ness leads Buford to first traditional state wrestling title

Wolves' 195-pound senior finishes career with 168-1 mark, four state crowns

POSTED: February 23, 2014 12:26 p.m.

BUFORD — Chip Ness tried to do a bit too much in the opening round of his Class AAA traditional wrestling championship match against Towers High’s Derival Stevenson. Luckily, it didn’t cost him.

Nearing the end of the first period, Ness was flipped onto his back and nearly pinned. He escaped with minimal damage, calmed down and ended up claiming his fourth straight state wrestling championship by pinning Stevenson with 57.1 seconds remaining in the third period.

“I tried to overkill it and make it too much fun by trying to get a throw,” said Ness, the top-ranked high school wrestler in the nation, according to U.S. Wrestling Magazine. “He back spun me and I give him a lot of credit. He definitely caught me. It was my fault. I wrestled out of style.

“This match sums up my 10 years of wrestling; my first day I wanted to be a four-time state champ. This match led up to 10 years of training. I was so glad, it was my No. 1 goal.”

Ness’ championship performance in the 195-pound weight class capped off an unforgettable night for Buford wrestlers. With six of the Wolves’ eight wrestlers competing in championship matches, Buford was a perfect 6 for 6 in title bouts, as the school cruised to its first-ever team traditional championship with 156 points.

Just a month after claiming the dual wrestling championship in Macon, Buford closed out the wrestling season with the traditional championship in front of a packed home gymnasium and in front of a home student section more often seen at Buford football games.

With the roaring student section behind them, the Wolves won championship match after championship match, capped by Ness’ fourth straight title. Ness finished his career with a record of 168-1.

“Being at home, with the crowd backing you up, that helps you,” Buford coach Rob Carlyle said. “They were motivated, pumped up to wrestle. The past two weeks we haven’t really been able to wrestle with the snow days. So we went back to the basics, told them what was in store as a team, and they bought in.”

Added Ness: “We had more excitement in this title match than our football games.”

The night’s first championship match proved to be the most dramatic, with Buford freshman Eli Hartley earning the championship-deciding point in the 106-pound weight class with just 0.8 seconds remaining.

After Blessed Trinity’s Noah Kile took a 4-3 lead with 12.8 seconds remaining, Hartley stayed focused and earned the critical two points in the final second, capping off a rally that started with him trailing 3-0 early in the second period.

“I knew that time was winding down,” said Hartley. “I gave it my all and came out on top.”

Hartley’s dramatic rally started the string of Buford titles.

Teammate Darius Bunch, a third-place finisher in 2013, defeated North Hall’s Caleb Hamilton in the 120-pound weight class, before reigning state champion Jack Barber earned his second consecutive title with a first-round pin in the 126-pound class.

That was followed up by a second straight championship for senior Brayden Hartley in the 132-pound class.

Hartley defeated North Hall’s Michael Carew 7-2 in the title match, but said watching his younger brother Eli win the championship in the night’s first match was by far more rewarding.

“I remember being in the same situation last year, losing in sectionals, coming up short and having a tougher road to the finals,” the elder Hartley said, relating to his brother’s road to a title this season. “(Eli) having to go to the last second to win that title, that, believe it or not, is what made my night.

“Winning a state title for myself is pretty important, but watching my little brother get it done, that means more to me.”

Rudy Guillen, fifth in Class AAAAAA last season as a member of Norcross’ team, continued Buford’s success in the 145-pound weight class by earning a 10-3 win over Cartersville’s Evan Cole, the largest defeat of the night in a match not decided by a pin.

Following Guillen’s title win, Buford was a perfect 5 for 5 with Ness waiting in the locker room to close out the night.

After embarrassing himself, as Ness put it, with his near loss by pin in the first round, the future North Carolina Tar Heel was able to end his historic run as the Wolves’ most prolific wrestler with a state championship. He also got to help Buford earn its first traditional state championship.

Ness hopes the championship will be the first of many.

“We work so hard and we stick together,” Ness said. “I try to lead by example and hope everyone follows and six of them were able to and the others are working their butts off and they’re going to be doing it next year.

“I want this title to move on. I want us to be a Jefferson-type team; we have the credentials, we have the potential. It all comes down to filling the shoes.”

Also in Class AAA championship matches on Saturday night, Banks County’s Chris McCrackin won his second straight state championship with a 4-2 decision in the 113-pound weight class.

The Leopards, the 2013 Class AAA traditional champions, finished second as a team with 101 points, after Phillip Dean and Matt Dilbeck each took second in their respective title matches.

Dawson County’s Gavin Brown, a state runner-up last year, won the championship in the 182-pound weight class, while West Hall’s Elliott Raiford finished second in the 152-pound class, losing to North Carolina signee Chandler Pyke in the finals.


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