OAKWOOD — After two days, seven rounds and 28 matches, the Hall County wrestling championship was still up for grabs.
Going down to the third tie-breaker criteria, however, Flowery Branch emerged victorious from a three-way tie with Chestatee and North Hall in Oakwood on Saturday.
Despite losing to North Hall, 37-31, in the final match of the day, Chestatee was awarded second place, while the Trojans took third.
“I’m just so proud of the way my guys fought,” Flowery Branch coach Shane Millwood said. “They took care of business today.”
Flowery Branch entered the second day of competition with its back against the wall after losing to Chestatee on Day 1.
The Falcons got things going early, knocking off North Hall 47-15 in their opening match of the day. The Trojans were undefeated through three matches on Friday, but couldn’t keep pace with Flowery Branch.
Flowery Branch followed that win with victories over West Hall (63-12), Riverside Military (58-13) and Gainesville (58-10) to give itself a chance at a tie.
“As a coach, I don’t think I did a great job of preparing our guys for Chestatee yesterday,” Millwood said. “But we got in here early this morning and went out against North Hall prepared. We got on a good roll to give us a chance today. Hats off to my guys.”
Falcon wrestler Nick Lankford, who was named most outstanding wrestler for the light-weight classes, said his team was just focused on sticking to their game plan no matter the pressure they were under.
“Our game plan going into every match is the same: get the first score, get on a roll and finish strong,” he said.
Even after finishing the day with four consecutive wins to give it a 6-1 record for the tournament, however, Flowery Branch was still left waiting anxiously on the sidelines as Chestatee finished its match against North Hall.
The War Eagles entered that match undefeated in the tournament, sporting a win over the Falcons on Friday. Already on Saturday, Chestatee defeated Riverside (46-33), Gainesville (50-24) and Johnson (72-12).
But Millwood knew his team still had a shot at the title, though.
“We knew North Hall matched up well with Chestatee,” he said. “We knew we were going to have a chance.”
In arguably the most exciting match of the tournament, one which filled the gym with energy and constant cheers from each of the three teams’ fans, North Hall battled back from a 31-25 deficit to take the win.
Back-to-back pins by Andy Voss and Tyler Kratzer in the final two matchups gave the Trojans a 37-31 victory and forced the teams’ coaches into a side room to decide the champion.
North Hall coach Jay Hargis said that, despite dropping to third on tiebreakers, he was thrilled with his team’s ability to fight back after losing to Flowery Branch earlier in the day.
“It would have been easy for them to quit,” he said. “I challenged them to come back and show what they’re made of, and they did. I’m proud of the effort and the attitude, and I hope we can take this desire to Area.”
Even though they took second place in the tournament, the War Eagles were left feeling incomplete at the end of the day.
Coach Carey Whitlow said that he was proud of his team, but was also disappointed that they couldn’t finish the job against North Hall.
“It’s disappointing,” he said. “I can’t really say much about it right now. We’ve got high expectations now after how we’ve been performing. We had an X on our backs from the start, and they finally got us at the end.”
Whitlow added, however, that this wasn’t the time to feel down.
“This is the best time to show good character,” he said. “Win or lose, we give glory to God. Wrestling is a tough sport, and you’ve got to have some good guys, and we’ve definitely got them.”
While neither won the tournament, Chestatee and North Hall both got some tournament hardware for individual performances. North Hall’s Kratzer, who clinched the match against Chestatee, was awarded middle-weight most outstanding wrestler, while Chestatee’s Dylan Brock won the same award for the heavyweights.
Next up for wrestling are the area traditional tournaments, which begin on Friday. Area 8-AAA will compete at Chestatee High, while Flowery Branch will take part in the Area 8-AAAA Duals at Habersham Central High.