Chestatee wrestler Carter Groves originally didn’t want the individual pressure of needing a win to clinch the War Eagles’ first-ever Hall County Duals Championship title Saturday at North Hall High.
But when the situation called for Groves to do just that, he thrived in the spotlight.
With Chestatee down by three points and just one match left in the championship round against Flowery Branch, the 285-pound junior defeated R.J. Deyton 11-1 to score a four-point major decision and lift the War Eagles over the Falcons 31-30 for their first county title in team history.
“At the beginning of the match, I was like ‘I hope it doesn’t come down to me,’” Groves said. “But when I went out there, I was like ‘this is when I’m going to do it. I’m not going to back down from this one.’”
With the win, Chestatee improves from last year’s second-place finish at the same tournament, when the War Eagles came in just behind Flowery Branch in a finish that required a tiebreaker to determine.
This season, no tiebreakers were needed to lift Chestatee past the Falcons, who had won four of the last five county titles. Groves’ decisive win finally ended a string of close calls for the War Eagles at the tournament in recent years.
“We’ve come in second many, many, many years but never won it,” Chestatee coach Carey Whitlow said. “What looks good is that it set a precedent at the school. So next year, our goal won’t be to go to state, like it has been, but to go win matches (at state).”
Groves needed at least a four-point victory for Chestatee to win the championship. Had he won via regular decision instead, the War Eagles would have been tied at 30 apiece against Flowery Branch, and the Falcons’ would have won the first tiebreaker criteria, having won eight matches overall to Chestatee’s six.
So it was crucial for the War Eagles to get as many pins as possible, and keep the losses by pin to a minimum. Four Chestatee wrestlers recorded pins, three of them coming in the first four matches. Jose Reyes opened the finals with a pin at 106 pounds, followed by another six-point win at 113 pounds by Bartolo Velasquez. Christian Zapatero added another pin at 126.
The War Eagles led 21-0 through four matches before Flowery Branch worked its way back into battle. The Falcons’ Ben Horton scored his team’s first points in an 8-4 decision at 132 pounds and Micah McWhorter followed with a 6-2 win at 138.
Zach Winter picked up Flowery Branch’s first pin at 145 and the Falcons expanded their winning streak to six matches as 152-pounder Brady Dyer and 160-pounder Quinten Newman each recorded victories by regular decision.
The surge moved Flowery Branch to within three points of Chestatee before War Eagles 170-pounder Cody Humphries recorded a pin to give the War Eagles a 27-18 lead. The Falcons countered with three consecutive wins, as Danny Garza pulled out a 7-2 victory at 182 pounds and Jackie Simonds edged Greyson Entrekin at 195 pounds in a 9-8 four-period overtime battle.
Devante King gave Flowery Branch its first lead of the finals with a pin at 220-pounds, leaving Groves to get Chestatee back ahead at 285.
“All Carter has to do is get a major decision or higher, and we win,” Whitlow said. “So when he jumped up there to 11-1, I just (said) ‘don’t do anything.’
“I think I had five heart attacks here.”
Strangely enough, the one-point win wasn’t Chestatee’s closest of the day. Its semifinal bout with North Hall ended in a 30-30 tie, with the War Eagles getting the win on tiebreakers by outscoring the Trojans in first takedowns 8-6. The two teams were tied in various tiebreaking criteria before Chestatee was finally given the nod.
Chestatee opened the tournament, which was originally scheduled to begin Friday before inclement weather pushed back the start date, with a 57-24 first-round win over Gainesville.
Flowery Branch secured a second-place finish after defeating North Hall 48-20 in the final consolation match. The Falcons opened the meet with a 57-21 win over Riverside Military and a 63-12 victory over East Hall in the semifinals.
The Trojans ended the day third with wins over Johnson, East Hall and West Hall.
East Hall placed fourth, followed by West Hall in fifth, Johnson in sixth, Gainesville in seventh and Riverside Military in eighth.
Most Outstanding Wrestling honors went to Taylor Marett of North Hall in the lightweight category, Tyler Kratzer of North Hall in the middleweights and Groves in the heavyweights.
All eight tournament teams will compete in their area tournaments next week, ranging from Class AA to AAAAA.