On Saturday afternoon, West Forsyth was in a much different position than the one they had anticipated all week.
The Wolverines had been bracing to face off with a formidable Forsyth Central squad in the final round of the Region 5-7A duals. But after defeating North Forsyth 46-24 in the semifinals, West was thrown a curveball: On the opposing mat, South Forsyth had edged the favored Bulldogs 36-31 to move on to the finals, and West coach Evan Goff had to change up his plans a bit.
West turned to two freshmen to help finish their title clinch, the first of which being 106-pound DJ Little. Goff subbed him in to help create a favorable scenario over the next three weight classes.
“He’s not normally in our starting lineup,” Goff said. “When they sent out a kid that was a little undersized, I felt DJ was prepared to go out and get a W for us. By making that move, we kind of kept everything in check. That was a gamble, making sure we would win that one.”
Little was nervous at first, but after his first takedown, those nerves dissipated. He rewarded Goff for rolling the dice, earning a win to shift momentum firmly to the Wolverines’ side. After every matchup, West’s wrestlers observing against the wall from the side of the mat slowly began to stand, feeling the title inching closer and closer.
Another freshman, Christian Walker, was called upon to put the matchup out of reach for the War Eagles. After earning the deciding pin, he jumped up, kicked his leg in the air in celebration and his teammates mobbed him. The win put both the Wolverines and South in the state championships next week in Macon.
“I was overwhelmed with joy,” Walker said. “I was really hyped.”
Before West’s showing in the finals, it was South that looked to have an upper hand. The War Eagles defeated Milton in the opening round and began their second-round matchup with Central with two pins. The Bulldogs’ Brandon Redecker tied it up at 15-15, but South eventually went up 33-30.
The matchup ultimately came down to one final bout between two state finalists from a season ago – Central’s Abraham Perez and South’s AJ Riner, competing at 126. Perez needed a pin to get the six team points necessary to overtake South, but he just barely fell to Riner by a 4-3 score.
Central bounced back to finish third after decisive wins over Lambert (55-19) and North Forsyth (54-21). The Bulldogs would have had a chance at playing West for second place had they lost the finals, but that chance never came. Their result was a disappointing one for them -- the Bulldogs were looking to earn their first Region duals championship as members of Class 7A.
“We’ve wrestled incredibly tough tournaments this year and found a lot of success this season,” Central coach Jeremiah Walker said. “Even still, for this team and this program, I don’t know if they’re quite used to having the target on their back yet.
"It is what it is. Monday's the first day of practice. I'm extremely confident that these guys will make the appropriate changes to overcome this adversity and to reach their goals."