WATKINSVILLE – Moving around wrestlers allowed Lumpkin County to achieve history, but it also helped cost it an area title.
Trailing Oconee County in the championship match, the Indians moved Lee Cagle, who qualified for the tournament at 160 pounds, to the 189-pound weight class to give them a better chance at coming back. But that substitution, which was pointed out to the officials by Oconee County’s coaching staff, is illegal according to the National Federation of Wrestling and Lumpkin County had to forfeit that match.
The forfeit gave Oconee County enough of a lead to clinch the title, and after forfeits in the final two weight classes, the Warriors walked away with a 41-36 win and the Area 8-AAA championship.
The runner-up finish still qualified Lumpkin County for the state duals meet next week in Macon; the first time in school history the Indians have accomplished such a feat.
“We made a mistake,” Indians coach Brian Matthews said. “It’s just hard to enjoy (reaching state) this second. We’re excited, and these guys are resilient. They’ll bounce back.”
Lumpkin County showed its resiliency in the semifinals against White County. Having lost to the Warriors earlier this year by 44 points, Lumpkin County came out focused, and won its first two matches en route to a 36-35 win.
Williams used the same strategy against White County that he did against Oconee County, only that time he did so according to the rule book.
“We moved some kids to a weight class where we wanted them to be,” Matthews said prior to the championship match. “The kids really met the challenge.”
Starting at the 215-pound weight class, Lumpkin County received a win by major decision from Travis Burton and a win by pin from Michael Flanagan. The team’s lone seniors got the match started off on the right foot, and combined with big wins from Aaron Salazar at 145 pounds and Cagle at 160, the Indians avenged the previous loss and advanced to the title match.
“I knew they’d be gunning for us,” White County coach Tim Bragg said. “They took it to us even though we knew what they had planned.
“We simply didn’t get it done.”
White County finished third in the area with a 62-18 win against West Hall in the consolation finals.
While the third-place match was coming to a close, so too was the championship match; all be it in a fashion unexpected by anyone in attendance.
With Alex Ward and JT Todd winning two of the first three matches for Lumpkin County, the Indians put the hosts on their back and in need of a small comeback.
Oconee County responded with wins in the 125-pound and 130-pound division, but when James Stewart won at 135, the Indians got back within striking distance.
But that’s as close as they’d get.
Oconee County’s Johnny Miller and Cody Knight each pinned their opponent in the first period, with Knight’s match lasting less than 20 seconds. Those pins sandwiched a 6-0 win by Ethan Griffeth that put Oconee County in the driver’s seat.
The forced forfeit at 171 pounds sealed the title.
“It’s unfortunate for Lumpkin County,” Oconee County coach Jimmy Herring said. “We had exceptional wrestlers in both upcoming weight classes and we’re confident the match would have come out the same way.”
Herring praised Lumpkin County for being a “great team,” and he tipped his cap to a group of seniors who made the state duals for the first time since their freshman year.
“The team’s goal at the beginning of the year was to return to Macon,” Herring said. “I’m pleased we get to represent this region, which I think is one of the two toughest regions in the state.”
Lumpkin County will also be representing Region 8-AAA, and the Indians hope they see Oconee County again.
“This loss gives us more motivation to win,” Matthews said.