“I don’t believe that just happened.”
There was no love lost between Pope and Woodland-Bartow as the teams battled for the Class AAAAA state dual championship for the third straight time.
In the end, the Greyhounds prevailed once again, rallying to capture their third straight title with a hard-fought 36-29 victory Saturday at the Macon Centreplex.
Allatoona also had reason to celebrate, posting a 31-24 win over Creekview to finish third, placing on the podium for the first time.
Ultimately, though, the afternoon belonged to Pope.
“In my 19 years of coaching, this is probably the most amazing moment I’ve had in the history of Pope wrestling,” coach Jim Haskin said. “To come back from that in the final, and battle and work with everybody here, and people thinking we’re dead in the water, is just really special.
“I’m especially proud to have both my sons be a part of this, but really these are all my kids, and the time and effort they and the coaching staff put into this — this is what it’s all about. We were undersized and underweight, and to come here and win for the third time — that’s the payout.”
In what has been a theme for Pope for much of the season, it came from behind to take the win.
It was a tense match against Woodland that featured strategic maneuvering, intense wrestling, emotion from the benches and jawing between the two head coaches, Haskin and the Wildcats’ Adrian Tramutola.
Already trailing 20-0 after the first four before being docked a point for obscene language, Pope rallied to tie the score behind Tyler Haskin’s pin at 132 pounds, Jake Adcock’s technical fall at 138, T.J. Collins’ major decision at 145 and Davis Burson’s pin at (152).
Colton Lombardy kept the momentum going with a decision at 160, and Jake Henson put Pope in front 27-20 with a major decision at 170.
Woodland took a 2-point lead behind an overtime decision at 182 and a pin at 195.
But Sean Hayden’s pin in 1:30 at 220 gave Pope a 33-29 advantage, and Seth Gorman made the lead stick, holding on for a 1-0 decision at 285 for the final score.
“We knew it would probably come down to me and Seth,” said Hayden, a first-year varsity wrestler. “We were down, and I knew I had to step up, so I just came with it.
“This is the first time I get to feel like a part of a state championship team, and it feels good to know that my victory put us on top and gave us a chance to win.”
Gorman was also excited about the victory.
“This is absolutely amazing,” he said. “I give all the credit to Sean because he secured our win. Before my match, coach just told me (a joke) to help me relax and take the edge off, and I just went out there and kept (the Woodland wrestler) from getting points.”
With Pope moving to Class AAAAAA next season, and Woodland remaining in its current classification, the rivalry will have to take a break, but its significance won’t be lost on Jim Haskin.
“This rivalry has been awesome,” he said. “This is why you play sports. This is the fun part. Rivalries like this is why you play the games and work towards these moments every day, and (Saturday) was a special moment.”
In only its second state duals appearance, Allatoona’s finish was the best in program history. The Buccaneers jumped out to leads of 25-6 and 31-12 before Creekview rallied with pins in two of the final four bouts to draw to within 31-24.
However, Harrison Kemp’s pin in 1:42 at 106 clinched the win for Allatoona, and Latrell Harris (113) followed with a win by injury default for the 43-24 margin.
“(Allatoona coach Joe Lanier) told me to go out there and wrestle, and that’s what I did,” Kemp said. “I wanted to win, but I also wanted to do it with a pin, and that’s what I got.
“It feels good to clinch the win for our team, and it’s been cool to be here. We’ve worked hard in practice, and to make it to this point is exciting.”
Creekview opened with a 3-0 lead, but Jarrett Williams’ decision at 126 sparked the Buccaneers’ run. Decisions from Ethan Benedict (132) and Will Kemp (170), a major decision from Eric Vermette (145) and pins from Jack Woods (138) and Jacob Robinson (160) led to Allatoona’s 25-6 lead. Cody Webb’s pin at 195 resulted in the 31-12 margin.
“Considering last year we went 1-2 at this tournament, this feels freakin’ awesome to be third in the state in only our second time here,” Lanier said. “This team is not that different from last year’s. We graduated three or four seniors, so it’s the same team if they all improved, which is what they did.”
Allatoona cruised past Ware County 41-16 earlier in the consolation semifinal to reach the third-place match. The Buccaneers fell behind 4-0 at the start but won nine straight bouts to take a 37-4 advantage.
An unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty following a pin at 195 dropped the margin to 36-10, but Alex Valentine’s decision at 220 pushed the margin to 39-10.
Another conduct penalty following a pin loss at 285 left Allatoona with a 38-16 lead with one bout remaining.
Harrison Kemp rallied to tie his match at 7-all in the third period and scored an escape in overtime to post an 8-7 victory at 106 for the Buccaneers’ 41-16 victory.
“We had a good summer of practices,” Lanier said. “I felt like all the pieces were falling together for us weight-wise. The challenge was to plug three holes and the young inexperienced kids stepped up when they had to. They’ve come through for us and made us a better team.”