Graham’s first-ever loss at the Division II state team dual wrestling championships wasn’t considered an upset according to the bracket seeding. That didn’t make No. 3 Graham’s 34-30 loss to top-seeded Louisville sting any less.
The Falcons entered Sunday’s championship match 23-0 with seven state titles in the tournament’s eight-year run (six in D-II and one in D-I). Graham came within 19 seconds of another.
Graham trailed Louisville 31-30 entering the 285-pound and final match. Graham sophomore Zack Burroughs and Louisville senior Blake Robbins faced off in a winner-take-all, six-minute showdown … and then some. Robbins took a 1-0 lead in the second period. Burroughs tied it with 1:45 left in the third.
In the one-minute overtime, both wrestlers battled on their feet in a standoff worthy of a state-title bout. It ended when Robbins scored a takedown with 19 seconds left.
Moments after the match was decided Graham coach Travis McIntosh took his team up the St. John Arena ramp to the concourse where he could have a private moment with his team away from the fan noise that included the D-I match still going on. His message?
“We win with class and lose with class,” McIntosh said. “We lose all the time. You know, today we just happened to lose as a team. We lose as a team a lot (at tournaments) and that’s okay. In our mind the big one that matters is the one that’s coming up. That’s the one that’s been recognized the most and that’s the one where we see who has the best team.”
That would be the D-II individual state championship tournament March 13-15 at the Schottenstein Center, just down the street from St. John Arena. Graham has won 19 straight D-II team titles.
With low numbers this season the Falcons forfeited the 106 and 120 weight classes. After Graham sophomore Nolan Gessler won his match at 113 by major decision (9-1), Louisville won the next three matches at 120 (forfeit), 126 (7-5) and 132 (6-3) to take an 18-4 lead.
“It’s kind of hard to win duals when you’re giving up 12 points to start every match. Obviously that’s no excuse,” said junior Nick Moore. “In four weeks we’ll be ready to get our 20th straight. We’re going to keep training as hard as we can day in and day out.”
The Falcons rallied with Moore’s pin at 138 (56 seconds), junior Alek Martin’s technical fall (24-9), junior Trace Braun’s victory by forfeit at 152 and freshman Camden McDanel’s decision (9-4) at 160. That put Graham in front 24-18 with five matches remaining.
Louisville won four of the five to score 16 team points with a major decision at 170 (10-0), major decision at 182 (14-6), technical fall at 195 (21-6) and Robbins’ win at 285. Graham sophomore Nolan Neves won by forfeit at 220, pulling the Falcons within a point entering the final match.
Graham beat No. 6 Millersburg West Holmes 48-24 in the quarterfinals and No. 2 Aurora 32-30 in the semifinal. Graham trailed 27-17 after the 170 match and pulled within 27-20 on junior Jack Mefford’s 7-1 decision. Aurora pushed it back to 30-20 with a 10-3 decision before Neves (31 seconds) and Burroughs (3:09) scored the match’s final 12 points on pins.
Louisville beat No. 8 Hamilton Ross 69-6 in the quarterfinals and No. 5 Bellevue 51-22 in the semis.
“You just had to believe,” Louisville coach Rocky Laughlin said. “Graham has dominated Ohio wrestling for so long eventually somebody had to get it done. … It’s a big deal for us. It was something we’ve talked about a lot. Just excited about it. I’m still a little in awe. Graham wrestled really well.”
Graham, Louisville and Aurora will clash again – this time as individuals – at the state tournament in March, too. Aurora finished second and Louisville third at last season’s state meet.
“It’s tough to lose. Losing isn’t fun. But these guys are competitors,” McIntosh said. “But hey, we won some matches tonight and we lost some matches tonight. We go back and keep working and try to win our 20th state title.”
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