MACON — It has been an epic streak, one almost bordering on the ridiculous.
The Jefferson wrestling program, 17 years running, and from the moment the idea of a Duals state wrestling championship was first conceived by the Georgia High School Association, has won every Duals title since 2002 spanning four classifications. It is rivaled only by Jefferson's 18-year streak of Traditional state titles.
The Dragons have scorched every challenger in their wake, some more than once. Saturday at the Macon Centreplex, a favored North Hall squad, which had beaten Jefferson earlier in the season, took its shot at becoming the Dragons-slayer when it mattered most.
Instead, Jefferson showed why no one has been able to knock them off the top of the mountain since 2000. The Dragons won four of the final five matches, including the final one at 170-pounds with a major fall win by senior Ryan Hurd, to rally for a nail-biting 30-29 victory to capture the Class 3A Duals state title.
“We have seven seniors on this team and none of us wanted to be the ones to end the streak,” Hurd said after beating the Trojans’ Dalton Battle 11-0 to earn four points to erase a 29-26 deficit for the win. “They had beaten us already and we talked about everyone stepping up. All of that was a motivator for us. Feels great to keep it going. But it was tough the whole way.”
Jefferson, the No. 2 seed, was the defending Class 4A state Duals champ but dropped back down to Class 3A for the 2018-19 season. Top-seeded North Hall was the defending Class 3A Duals champion. Everyone in the Centreplex expected it go down to the wire, including both coaches.
“We knew it was going to be a battle and that every match was going to be big. And it went down to the last match, just like I figured it would,” Jefferson coach Doug Thurmond said. “The kids embraced the streak and knowing that they were the underdogs going in. They did a tremendous job.”
North Hall coach David Nichols could not hide his disappointment.
“Well, first off, our kids wrestled their tails off and gave it everything they had,” Nichols said. “There are always things you can go back on and look at that make a difference in a match like this. We knew it was going to be close and it was back-and-forth the entire time. Jefferson got a couple of big wins late and that was probably the difference. You can’t give up points and (Jefferson) was able to get a couple of extras.”
The Dragons opened the match with an injury win at 182 for six full points in a match that was expected to be close. The Trojans answered with wins at 195 and 220, where Seth Carlton got a pin for a 9-6 lead.
Jefferson’s first break came at 285. The Dragons got three huge team points to tie the match at 9 when Gavin London produced three points in the final 5 seconds to snatch an amazing 4-3 victory from Bowie Eisenberg.
But North Hall seemed to take control over the next 30 minutes winning four of the next five matches, including major fall wins by Jacob Pedraza (113) and Matthew Glenn (132) and a pin by Damon Campbell at 126 for a 26-15 lead. But the Trojans could not hold on.
The Dragons got back-to-back major fall wins by Ian Statia (138) and Jake Brown (145) to turn the tide. They tied the match at 26 with two matches left after Nolan Sorrow held off Cody Smith at 152.
North Hall reclaimed the lead 29-26 with one match left when Hunter Adams beat Avery Nelms at 160.
But Hurd, with a chance to go out on top in his final year and keep the state’s second-most impressive title streak alive, was up to the challenge.
“I had never wrestled (Battle) before but I just went out there to try and score as many points as I could to try and get the four points we needed,” Hurd said. “Just a great feeling to be able to win it for my team.”
The Dragons weren’t the only northeast Georgia program to bring home hardware on Saturday.
Commerce won its sixth consecutive Class A Duals title pinning No. 2 seed Trion 56-15 in the finals. The top-seeded Tigers dominated from the opening match, a 12-1 major falls win by Josh Frates, to go with five pins and one other major falls victory.
Buford in Class 5A was looking for its third straight crown but was overwhelmed down the stretch by Woodland-Cartersville in the finals, 36-30. Many experts consider the Wildcats to be the top team in the state in any classification.
Woodland trailed Buford 21-6 after the Wolves’ Logan Ashton held on for an 8-7 decision win at 113. But the Wildcats won four straight matches by either pin or technical fall to take a 27-24 lead. They clinched the match at 160 when Caleb Jones took an 11-4 decision over Todd Hill.
It was the first state title for Woodland-Cartersville since taking the 2011 Class 4A Duals crown.
Earlier in the day, Jackson County took a fourth place finish in Class 3A. The Panthers beat Lumpkin County, who finished in the top six, 58-12 before falling to Sonoraville 37-21 in the third-place match.