Dozens of former wrestlers and hundreds of exuberant fans swarmed the mat after the Black Knights stunned defending 1-A State Dual Wrestling Champion Rosewood, 36-31, Saturday afternoon in the Robbinsville gym.
“This is it. This is the top of the mountain,” RHS head coach Todd Odom remarked in a voice choked with emotion. “You put a lifetime of work into something just to have the opportunity to do something special like this. For every kid who ever put a singlet on for Robbinsville wrestling, this is for them. This is what it’s all about. This is the rabbit that we’ve chased, and chased and chased and never caught. But we caught the rabbit today.”
The Black Knights (21-5) captured the elusive bunny from Rosewood (42-3) with a remarkable comeback in a fierce battle.
Robbinsville lost three of the first four matches and the lead changed hands six times before the Black Knights rallied to win their first state dual wrestling championship in five tries.
“It is the greatest feeling in the world. Just to know that we won it all is so awesome,” remarked 285-pounder Logan Odom.
Emotions reached a fever pitch on both sides of the gym as the match moved into its final rounds. Rosewood (42-3) led 25-24 with four matches to go.
Austin Lovin seemed oblivious of the pressure as he stepped onto the mat for the 160-match, a spirited clash Lovin won with grit and determination, 8-7, to give Robbinsville three points and a 27-25.
It fell upon first-year wrestler Issac Wilkinson to defend that lead in the 170-lb. match. Wilkinson came through in dramatic fashion, wining a 7-6 decision. “Issac Wilkinson got a last-second escape, giving us a win there. That was huge,” said teammate Jamie Kirl, originator of the popular Kirl Report, a Black Knights wrestling update he posts on Facebook.
The match literally went down to the wire. Wilkinson trailed Joey Behrend, 6-5, late in the third and final period. Wilkinson’s escape with :04 remaining gave Issac the much-needed individual win.
“I had some pretty bad situations,” Wilkinson said. “It was fun. Hard, but fun.”
Behrend would disagree. Behrend seemed to have the upper hand until Wilkinson drove him into the mat and Behrend came up holding his right side. From there, Wilkinson owned him. “I didn’t know if he was hurting or resting [when he called an injury timeout], but it helped me.”
“The way Issac won that match was the way you eat an elephant – one bite at a time,” coach Odom remarked.
Wilkinson’s inspired performance earned him the Most Valuable Player award.
“Isaac Wilkinson, my god, he’s a first-year wrestler. For him to come out here under the light and perform under that pressure, he’s completely deserving of the MVP,” Odom said. “If you take away Issac’s win, we lose 34-33.
Rosewood answered Wilkinson’s momentous win with a takedown in the 182-lb. class that cut Robbinsville’s lead to 31-30 entering the final match.
With most fans on their feet, Robbinsville 195-pounder Freddie Romero locked horns with Hunter Weeks, who proved to be a handful until Romero rocked him off balance and adroitly pinned the Rosewood heavy with :50 remaining in the second period to seal the Black Knights’ first state wrestling championship.
“Going into the match, I felt like I had him,” Romero said.
He did – just like Wilkinson had his man.
“I think that both matches were great and needed wins for us,” said 106-pounder Tyler Broome. “But Issac’s match was the tone-setter for the rest of the match, which pushed Freddie to get the pin.”
And now Rosewood wrestlers, coaches and fans know what it means to wrestle under Robbinsville’s bright light.
“This is Robbinsville. You got to come thorough Stecoah Gap to get down here. We don’t apologize for it. We’re mountain people. We’re blue-collar people,” Odom said. “We knew it would be difficult to come to our place to wrestle because our kids brelieve that they can’t lose here.”
That was Elijah’s Wachacha’s mindset in the 220-lb. class, first match of the championship. Wachacha overpowered Jacob Brown, pinning him in 2:19.
“I just took it like any other time,” Wachacha said. “I’ve been in three state championships now and it just felt normal to me. I just go out there and go as hard as I can go.”
Some may consider Robbinsville’s hard-earned state title to be an upset, but not Odom.
“Was today an upset? No, no,” Odom said Saturday night.”All I needed to know was for [assistant coaches] Wren Millsaps and Billy Knight to tell me that if we did our job we’d win. They predicted it all year. I’m not saying they’re a prophet, but they’re good at what they do. They told me if we did our jobs we’d win. That’s what we did.”
Robbinsville advanced to the 1-A Dual Team Championship by beating Allegheny, 60-19, in the second round of the regionals. Robbinsville, which had a bye in week No. 1 due to being the top seed, beat Mt. Airy, 40-28, in the third round to earn a showdown with Rosewood in the finals.
Robbinsville High School celebrated the state title with a convocation honoring the champs on Monday, but the Black Knights aren’t basking in their considerable glory. Coach Odom and his grapplers are preparing for the Regional at Allegheny this weekend. That tournament will determine how many Robbinsville wrestlers advance to the State tourney on Feb. 25.
“We’re not done yet,” Logan Odom said. “We’re gonna do our best to win the state tournament as a team as well.”