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Prep wrestling: Falcons claim Hall County crown
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GAINESVILLE — The Hall County Wrestling Championships played out just like they were supposed to heading into the day’s final round at Chestatee High.

West Hall and Flowery Branch, the county’s top two teams with its top two wrestlers, remained undefeated and conveniently faced off in the seventh and final round of the duals tournament with the title on the line.

After that, it was anything goes.

The Spartans and Falcons battled back and forth during the 14-match round, but Flowery Branch came out on top, beating the two-time defending champ West Hall 39-30 and claiming its first Hall County Duals championship.

"I can’t describe how I feel," Flowery Branch coach Shane Lancaster said. "Ever since the school opened, we’ve been in the running for this thing and everytime it seems like we’ve come up short. This time our guys pulled through."

The Falcons went 6-0 in the duals portion of the tournament, in addition to their six individual champs in the traditional portion, while the Spartans finished 5-1 for the tournament.

Even with six individual champs, Lancaster said he could not have seen the tournament’s finale coming.

"We had hopes that this would be the end," he said. "But with the way the teams match up, the strategy comes into play. This thing was completely up for grabs."

The lead in the final changed hands five times, with West Hall leading by as much as 11 points (18-7) after five matches.

When Flowery Branch freshman Zach Cannon pinned West Hall’s Omar Lopez in the first period in the 103-pound match, the Falcons took a 25-24 lead. They would not relinquish that lead, stretching it out to as many as 15 points.

"It was a lot of fun," Cannon said, who also took the individual title at 103 pounds. "It was good because (Friday) I wrestled and only came out with a (technical fall). I was really needing a pin for the team."

Even West Hall coach Rod Galvan saw the fun in the perfectly-planned final round, even though he said, as a coach, it was nerve-wracking.

"It was fun and it was different," he said, referring to the new format. "I had a lot more fun. It is more than nerve-wracking when you care so much. ... They (Flowery Branch) have a heck of a team and they wrestled a heck of a match."

West Hall jumped to an early lead as senior Colby Yates quickly pinned Nathan Amos in the first match of the round at 135 pounds. Justin Barfield gave the Falcons a quick and small lead with a 14-3 major decision at 145 pounds.

Spartan Chan Morris earned the lead back at 152 pounds with a first-round pin. West Hall held that lead for four matches until Flowery Branch’s Tom Pennington won with a second-period pin at 215 pounds.

West Hall’s Seth Hagedorn won by pin in the first period in the heavyweight division to give the Spartans a 24-19 lead. It would be their last lead of the round.

With Flowery Branch wrestlers standing and leaning in on one side of the mat and West Hall wrestlers sitting or kneeling on the other, Falcon Brandon Dyer clinched the win for his team with an 18-3 technical fall against Justin Byrne at 125 pounds.

"The younger guys came through for us this weekend," Pennington said. "Offseason work pays off."

Pennington, who was named the tournament’s most outstanding wrestler in weight classes 145-pounds and above, couldn’t hide his emotion at the end of the event.

"All the blood, sweat and tears I’ve put into this thing along with the other guys," he said, "it paid off. ... It depends on every single one of us."

Pennington also won the individual title at 215 pounds earlier in the week.

Yates, the most outstanding wrestler in weight classes 140-pounds and below, was a stark contrast to Flowery Branch’s top grappler.

The individual champion at 135 pounds was the most animated teammate on the sidelines during the final round but was also the most visibly upset afterwards, gritting his teeth and clenching his fists.

"We knew it was going to be a tough match," Yates said. "We had a couple of mistakes and had a couple of calls go against us. I don’t know. It just didn’t go our way."

Yates had as good a tournament individually as anybody, going undefeated and surpassing the Hall County record for career wins. He stands at 193 wins after the county tournament.

That wasn’t much consolation to him.

"We were in it for the team," he said. "My individual goals just came about. I was in it for the team."

West Hall beat East Hall (58-13), Gainesville (66-16) and Chestatee (48-26) on Saturday en route to the final showdown. Flowery Branch topped North Hall (54-22), Chestatee (48-30) and Gainesville (60-18) before beating West Hall.

North Hall clinched third place in the tournament with a 69-12 win over Gainesville in the final round, going 4-2 in the duals tournament. The Trojans also beat Johnson (60-18) Saturday.

Host Chestatee took fourth place in the tournament with a 3-3 record. Johnson (2-4) finished fifth, East Hall (1-5) took sixth and Gainesville (0-6) finished seventh.

Next week, the county wrestling teams will travel to Ellijay for the Area 7-AAA Dual Championships at Gilmer High.

Both the Falcons and the Spartans can find inspiration in what took place between the two teams Saturday.

"There’s always room to get better," Pennington said. "It gives us more drive."

"We’ll be correcting some of our mistakes," Galvan said. "We have everything on film. We might tweak some things a little bit."

One thing the West Hall coach knew for sure was that Saturday’s finale won’t be his team’s last exciting match of the season.

"That match against Flowery Branch," he said, "you can expect that almost every round at Gilmer."

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