Forsyth Central head wrestling coach Jeremiah Walker clutched the trophy while addressing his gathered team and delivered the words that he'd been dying to say for the past three weeks.
"You will always be region champions."
The Bulldogs had wanted to hear that back in their home gym, where they hosted the Region 5-7A duals on Jan. 14 as the top seed. But when they fell to South Forsyth in the semifinals and not only missed out on a region title but a berth in the state tournament, it was "devastating," in Walker's words.
"It definitely fueled me and all the rest of the team," Central senior Keaton Platzke said. "You could see it in the weight room and in the wrestling room, and even after the match, you could see that it just flipped a switch for everyone."
The region traditional tournament on Saturday at North Forsyth gave Central the reward for its dedication. The Bulldogs had six individual champions in the event and had the top team score, with 213 points to West Forsyth's 199, to take the title and give the school its first region championship as a member of Class 7A.
"It's a phenomenal feeling," Walker said.
Saturday was bound to be kinder to the Bulldogs than their last region tournament, if only because of the format. Central has been noticeably stronger in traditional tournaments -- where individuals advance through the brackets, as opposed to teams in duals -- due to their wealth of potential first-place finishers, which has let them leave weight classes empty but still place highly in team standings.
Central didn't delay in racking up points on Saturday. The Bulldogs sent eight wrestlers to the finals, and Steven Messer gave them their first title, at 113 pounds. Abraham Perez followed at 120, and somewhere in the process of Sam Aldrich winning at 152 and Avery Krippner winning at 160, Walker knew that the title was theirs.
He kept quiet for a bit, though.
"I didn't want the guys to know that," Walker said. "Because I want them to work hard and not rely on somebody else to do the job for them."
The Bulldogs felt the duals loss deeply. In fact, it inspired a motto that they picked up in the weeks since, which they fulfilled on Saturday.
"We took it as an opportunity to change the headline," Walker said. "That's what they were telling themselves for the last three weeks: Change the headline."
Region 5-7A traditional wrestling tournament team scores
1. Forsyth Central, 213
2. West Forsyth, 199
3. Milton, 176
4. South Forsyth, 172.50
5. North Forsyth, 149
6. Lambert, 127
106 - Stephen Solley, Milton
113 - Steven Messer, Forsyth Central
120 - Abraham Perez, Forsyth Central
126 - A.J. Riner, South Forsyth
132 - Ben Williams, Milton
138 - Tate Bissell, North Forsyth
145 - Paul Watkins, North Forsyth
152 - Sam Aldrich, Forsyth Central
160 - Avery Krippner, Forsyth Central
170 - Reid Golloher, Milton
182 - Branden Redecker, Forsyth Central
195 - Keaton Platzke, Forsyth Central
220 - Hayes Bicknell, Milton
285 - Dylan Fairchild, West Forsyth