One year ago, West Laurens took third place at the GHSA Class AAA state dual wrestling championships by defeating Henry County in overtime. This year, the Raiders needed a furious comeback to again take third place Saturday night at the Macon Coliseum.
Facing Locust Grove, the Raiders quickly gave away six points in the opening contest as they forfeited the 132-pound match. After also losing at 138 pounds, West Laurens scored its first win in the dual match when Keyon Taylor won by fall in the first round at 145 pounds.
Taylor’s win represented the only West Laurens points through the first seven divisions. Locust Grove recorded three wins by pinfall and an 8-6 victory at 160 pounds to race out to a 30-6 advantage.
“We knew that we were going to be down, but we didn’t expect to be down by that much but we lost two matches we shouldn’t have,” head coach Ed Bland said. “At practice we work on the importance of not getting down, and the kids just kept on working.”
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The tide began to turn with Demetrius Green at 195 pounds. He jumped out to a 7-1 advantage after the first round, only to see his opponent score five points in round two. Halfway through the final period, Green recorded a victory by pinfall, cutting the Raiders’ deficit to 30-12. The margin dropped to 29-12 when Locust Grove was assessed a point penalty for throwing head gear.
Undeterred by the momentary setback, the Wildcats scored their fourth victory by fall, winning at 220 pounds to build their lead up to 35-12 with only five weight classes remaining.
Any victory at any division would have secured a victory for Locust Grove. But almost as quickly as they built up their lead, it evaporated.
Starting with Brad Patterson in the 285-pound division, West Laurens’ wrestlers scored four consecutive first-round wins by pinfall. Patterson won with a 1:39 pin. At 106 pounds, Mark Johnson won with a pin at the 50-second mark. Jackson Cochran followed up with a win at 113 pounds, pinning his opponent in 1:36. The Raiders completed the comeback in the 120-pound contest when J.J. Coley scored a pin.
“We felt like we could win the last four matches and we ended up getting a pin at heavyweight -- and that was a turning point,” Bland said. “It was just an awesome testament to them (hanging) in there. We had to have three pins out of the five, and we got four and that was awesome.”
Leading 36-35, West Laurens needed merely a decision in the match’s final division, 126 pounds, to claim third place for a second straight year. Anthony Wesley had his team’s fate in his hands and became engaged a six-minute struggle. After the first period, he and Locust Grove’s Peter Baus were tied at 3. Two minutes later, the score was deadlocked at 5. Early in the final period, Wesley pulled off a successful escape for the decisive sixth point, then he held off Baus’ advances in the final seconds to claim a 39-35 team victory.
West Laurens’ hopes for a third Class AAA state duals title ended earlier Saturday as the Raiders fell 48-20 to Gilmer. The Raiders earned their way into the third-place contest by besting Woodward Academy 43-24. Against the War Eagles, the Raiders scored victories at 126 pounds, 138 pounds, 152 pounds, 160 pounds, 170 pounds, 181 pounds, 195 pounds, 285 pounds and finally at 120 pounds.
In the five title matches, Holy Innocents’ won a hotly contested Class A final; Jefferson rolled to victory in Class AA; Gilmer, the school that beat West Laurens in the semifinals, proved to be tops in Class AAA, beating Heritage 29-27; Pope scored the Class AAAA title, and Camden County emerged victorious against Collins Hills 28-27 in Class AAAAA.