MACON — One week after suffering a loss to Banks County in the Area 4-AAA Duals final, Buford wrestlers earned a chance at redemption against the state-favorite Leopards on a much higher stage.
The rematch rewarded the Wolves with a state championship.
Buford stunned Banks County 44-23 on Saturday at Macon Centreplex, defeating the defending Class AAA state champions for the program’s first-ever state duals title.
The Wolves won nine matches in the championship round with four pins, a technical fall and three of major decisions to avenge last week’s 34-32 loss to the Leopards at area duals.
“That fired the guys up – they wanted to win,” Buford coach Rob Carlyle said. “They didn’t like that, and it left a bitter taste in their mouths.”
Buford’s victory was the start of a successful day for local wrestling teams. Jefferson won its 13th straight duals title in Class AA, and Commerce received Class A honors soon after.
But only the Wolves could boast a championship while competing in uncharted territory. They had never qualified for state before this season.
And with three wrestlers aiming to defend traditional state titles from a year ago, expectations for the program are skyrocketing.
“Being at Buford and having that atmosphere around you, the sky is the limit,” Carlyle said. “We’re getting great support from our administration and our athletic department.”
Buford led the entirety of the match, never letting Banks County get any closer than 15 points to its commanding lead.
The Wolves dominated the lightweight rounds, jumping out to a 22-0 advantage after an 11-2 major decision win by Matthew Lowe at 106 pounds, an 8-3 victory by Eli Hartley (113), a 16-1 technical fall by Darius Bunch (120), a 13-1 major decision by 2013 state champion Jack Barber (126) and a pin by another 2013 state champion, Brayden Hartley, at 132.
Barber, who won a traditional title at 113 last year, didn’t wrestle at area duals last week.
“When you return a state champion that wasn’t there, that’s a least a 12-point swing,” Banks County coach Kasey Hanley said. “We knew what we had to do — we had on paper what we needed. When those things don’t happen, there’s nothing you can do but keep working hard.”
The Leopards did exactly that, winning three of the next four weight classes to trail just 28-13 through 160 pounds. It included a 4-0 win by Tony Fultz at 138, a pin by Tristan Guthrie at 152 and a 14-5 major decision by John Faulkner at 160.
Buford stayed afloat with a pair of crucial wins: A pin by Rodolfo Guillen at 145 and a 13-2 major decision by Ty Reece at 170.
The Leopards countered with Phillip Dean’s 11-2 major decision at 182, putting them behind 32-17 with three weight classes to go and a chance to rally still within reach.
The Wolves’ heavyweights quickly shut the door on Banks County’s chances at back-to-back state titles with a pair of pins by Chip Ness (195) and Justin Loredo (220). Both matches ended in the first period.
Buford forfeited at 285 with the team victory already secured.
“Banks was blocking and not allowing us to get bonus points, and did a good job of doing it,” Carlyle said. “That was key — getting those bonus points and trying to get pins. A lot of those guys did that, so it was crucial.”
Jefferson, which has won a state duals title every year since the tournament was implemented, defeated Bremen 48-15 in the Class AA finals to extend its incredible streak.
Commerce, the Dragons’ cross-town rival, cruised past Athens Christian 48-18 to improve on last year’s third-place finish.
The Tigers, who are coached by former Jefferson assistant Kendall Love, outscored opponents 190-28 over a three-day span.
“I’m proud of (Love) and I’m happy for him,” Dragons coach Doug Thurmond said. “They are well-deserving. This will be the first of many that they’ll win.”
Lumpkin County wrapped up the Class AAAA tournament with a fourth-place finish after a 43-16 loss to Alexander in the consolation finals.
The Indians opened the day with a familiar foe in the semifinals — Chestatee, which lost to them at area duals last week. The result was the same, with Lumpkin County holding for a 33-26 win and a spot in the third-place match.