GAINESVILLE -- At first, Carter Groves hoped to avoid the spotlight. But when it was thrust upon him, the Chestatee junior responded like a champion.
And thanks in part to his efforts, he and his teammates made history on Saturday at North Hall High.
Groves outfought Flowery Branch's RJ Deyton in the heavyweight final -- the last bout of the championship round -- to pull off an 11-1 win that clinched the War Eagles first ever Hall County Duals title.
"At the beginning of the match (with Flowery Branch) I was hoping it wouldn't come down to me," said Groves, whose major decision yielded a 31-30 win for Chestatee. "But when it got there, and I knew it was on me, I decided wasn't going to back down."
Indeed, Groves nearly pinned Deyton near the end of the first period. But while Deyton escaped, the takedown provided plenty of confidence for the War Eagles' heavyweight, who is in his first season as a varsity competitor.
"This feels amazing; we made history," Groves said.
History proved a cliff-hanger throughout the day for the War Eagles, who progressed to the championship round by an even narrower semifinal defeat of North Hall -- Chestatee winning on criteria after a 30-30 draw. In fact it was the eighth criteria that proved the difference, the War Eagles getting two more first takedowns during the match.
"I had about five heart attacks today," Chestatee coach Carey Whitlow said. "We've come in second here many many times, so this was great for us."
The War Eagles built a solid, 21-0 cushion at the start of the championship round, as Jose Reyes (103 pounds), Bartolo Velasquez (113) and Christian Zapatero (126) all won by pin and Austin Donaldson (120) won by decision.
"Our lower weights have been our bread and butter all season, and we had to start well," Whitlow said. "Because we knew the storm was coming."
Come it did, as the Falcons responded with five straight victories. Crucially, however, only Zach Winter (145) managed to pin his Chestatee opponent during the run, enabling the War Eagles to maintain a 21-18 advantage before Cody Humphries (170) came up with Chestatee's fourth pin of the match to extend the lead to 27-18.
"The key is not getting pinned, and that's what happened," Whitlow said. "We had a lot of guys go out there and wrestle hard and lose, but they didn't let themselves get pinned."
Flowery Branch kept winning, however, Danny Garza (182) and Grant Simonds (195) each claiming victories -- including a nail-biting, 10-8 overtime win for Simonds over Chestatee's Greyson Entrekin. That set the stage for the Falcons' Davante King (220), who did come up with a pin, surging the Falcons into the lead for the first time at 30-27 and setting up the 285-pound showdown.
"We knew we had to have a major decision win (worth four team points) or more from Carter," Whitlow said. "Because if we had tied they would have won on criteria."
The War Eagles' big man didn't disappoint, going after Deyton from the start.
"I had never wrestled him, and I saw his upper body at first and was a little afraid," Groves said. "But just went right at him and got it done."
With the area traditional tournaments getting underway next week, Groves hopes it is only the start of something big.
"I feel so much more confident now," said Groves, who was also named outstanding wrestler for the heavier weight classes. North Hall's Taylor Merritt was outstanding wrestler for the lighter classes and Tyler Kratzer was outstanding wrestler for the middle weight classes.
Flowery Branch, meanwhile, bounced back to finish true second after North Hall challenged for the spot following the championship bout. The Falcons defeated North Hall 48-20 in the final match of the day.
Flowery Branch had cruised into the championship round, opening the day with a 57-24 defeat of Riverside before crushing East Hall 63-12 in the semifinals. The Falcons recorded 10 pins in their defeat of the Vikings.
Chestatee, meanwhile, needed everything it had to get past rival North Hall in the other semifinal. The War Eagles and Trojans battled until the final whistle of the final match, with Chestatee edging in front on criteria -- the eighth possible tiebreaker. Chestatee claimed the victory based on most first takedowns, tiebreaker "H" in the rule book, after the two foes finished even on victories (7-7) and pins (6-6).
"I haven't had a match go to criteria since I can't remember when... in years," War Eagles coach Carey Whitlow said. "North Hall is a good team, and we don't match up well with them. But we had a bunch of young guys step up and wrestle well today."
That included junior Edgar Amaro, a back-up that stepped in for Chestatee in the 195-pound class and claimed the victory that helped clinch a semifinal success for the War Eagles.
"He's been a back-up for us for a long time, but he really stepped up," Whitlow said. "We had a lot of that today. And even as intense as it was when the match was over you could see everybody on both sides handled it well. There was a lot of grace out here."
Chestatee opened the day with a 52-21 defeat of Gainesville.
East Hall, meanwhile, finished fourth, falling to North Hall 45-30 in the consolation semifinal, while West Hall claimed fifth after defeating Riverside Military 56-15 but falling to North Hall, 48-24, and East Hall 40-31. Johnson was also sixth after losses to North Hall, 63-12 and East Hall, 51-30 and a 44-36 win over Gainesville. Gainesville also defeated Riverside Military 45-32 to take seventh.