North Forsyth reached the Class 7A state duals championship match last year, but given the matchup with perennial power Camden County, the Raiders understood the runner-up finish was the best they could have hoped to achieve.
This season, North Forsyth dropped down to 6A, while Camden County remained in 7A, opening the door for a more realistic run at the state title. The Raiders managed to reel off 31 straight victories to begin the duals season, including wins over Lee County and Woodward Academy to reach the 6A finals Saturday at Gainesville.
However, North Forsyth came up agonizingly short in pursuit of an undefeated season and its first-ever state championship, falling 36-28 to South Effingham for a second consecutive second-place showing.
“We’re not a team full of state champions and state runners-up,” Raiders head coach Travis Jarrard said. “We come in here with two returning state-placers. We fought and battled as a team all year long.
“A lot of people didn’t think we would get to the finals. A lot of people didn’t think we had a chance to beat South Effingham. Hats off to them, they wrestled a good match, and they won. It was a back-and-forth match — just like the Woodward one. One thing here, one thing there and it could have gone either way for both of us.”
To reach the championship, North Forsyth certainly didn't take the easy path.
Based on the 6A top-10 rankings by SE Wrestle entering the Region 8-6A duals, the Raiders — who were No. 5 on the list — defeated third-ranked Jackson County on its home mat to capture the league title. It gave North Forsyth a home quad for the state prelims, during which the Raiders knocked off top-ranked Brunswick (which had defeated No. 7 South Paulding earlier the same day).
In the eight-team duals state tournament, North Forsyth met Lee County, which was No. 6 in the aforementioned rankings, in the first round. The Raiders scored 24 consecutive points after falling behind 15-10, eventually emerging with a 40-28 victory.
During a hard-fought semifinal matchup with No. 2 Woodward, North Forsyth took a 23-10 lead and managed to stay in front by seven points before forfeiting the final weight class in a 32-31 win.
“It is a great season,” Jarrard said. “Do we wish we had gone one step further? Obviously, everybody wants to win. In reality, only one team finishes out on top. We just came up short this year.”
Michael Gryder opened the finals with a 7-4 victory, and three bouts later, Dmitry Vostrikov earned the Raiders' first pin of the match. Christopher Henderson followed with an 11-3 major for a 13-10 lead.
Over the next three matches, South Effingham built a nine-point lead before Collin Kelley won 4-2 and Collin Miller pinned to even the score at 22-all. Arcadian Eaton countered a Mustangs pin with one of his own to tie the match at 28, but the Raiders dropped a couple of major decisions in the final two weight classes.
The defeat ended an incredible run of success in duals competitions for North Forsyth's senior class.
“For a group of kids where most of them didn’t even start wrestling until eighth grade, going up against team after team of guys who have been wrestling for 10-11 years, you just have to say hats off,” Jarrard said. “It’s remarkable improvement over the years. What does it say about the assistant coaches I’ve had in the room? …
“We’ve got a great culture. We’ve got a great program. It’s been quite a run. They’ve had a lot of accomplishments in their four-year career, including back-to-back state runner-up finishes.”
Where do the Raiders go after suffering a heartbreaking loss in the finals? Back in the room, of course, because the season isn't over.
While the varsity team won't be competing again until the region traditional Feb. 4, North Forsyth still has a chance to end the overall wrestling season on a positive note, as the Raiders look to improve upon last year's fourth-place finish in Macon.
“Thankfully, I’ve got a little bit of experience coming in second,” Jarrard said in regards to moving on from the loss. “You tell them it hurts and it’s good that it hurts, because that means it matters. …
“It doesn’t stop, and I guess that’s the good thing about wrestling. You have a crushing loss here and we still have more to go. We still have three, four weeks left of the season in the individual.”
West Forsyth places 4th in 7A
The fact that West Forsyth placing fourth in the Class 7A state duals competition marked the Wolverines' worst finish in the event since 2019 shows just how strong the wrestling program has been under Evan Goff.
After finishing third in 2020 and 2022 in addition to a runner-up showing in 2021, West Forsyth alternated wins and losses to place fourth in the eight-team competition Saturday at Buford Arena.
Even before that run, the Wolverines ended the 2019 season with a top-six finish in what was a 16-team bracket.
Saturday's event started off well for West Forsyth, with a 41-28 triumph over Lowndes. But a 58-15 semifinal loss to Buford sent the Wolverines into the consolation bracket, where they bounced back to defeat Archer by a 48-21 margin.
In a reversal of last year's third-place match, West Forsyth fell to Mill Creek, 50-27.
The Wolverines will now turn their attention to the traditional portion of the season, where Noah Danforth and Reed Walker will seek back-to-back state titles.