By Dennis Atwood - email@example.com
SALEM -- Millbrook's Jake Crawford grabbed his 200th career victory, but fell two points shy of winning his fourth consecutive state wrestling championship, while teammate Joe Jessen won his second consecutive championship in the state Group AA tournament Saturday at the Salem Civic Center.
Crawford pinned all three opponents in the preliminary rounds and faced Christiansburg junior Zach Epperly in the highly anticipated 160-pound championship match.
Epperly is the younger brother of Brady Epperly, who Crawford beat for the 140-pound championship last year, and of four-time state champion Matt Epperly (Christiansburg 2003-2006).
Epperly scored two on an apparently incomplete reversal -- drawing the first of several loud crowd complaints during the match -- midway through the first period and Crawford earned a point on an escape. In the second minute of the second period, Crawford made another escape for a 2-2 tie as both wrestlers engaged with steady intensity.
At 1:26 in the third period, Epperly managed another reversal to take a 4-2 lead, then was penalized a point for delay.
Epperly scored two on a take-down with 25 seconds remaining, for a 6-3 lead, and all Crawford could muster was a late escape, resulting in a 6-4 win for Epperly.
"I probably didn't deserve points for the reversal at the end," said Crawford, who will wrestle at the University of North Carolina next year. "It was a tough match against a really tough kid. I didn't wrestle my best. It was his day, I guess, to enjoy.
"He got the best of me today. I can't dwell on it. I'm just looking forward to the future and going on to college."
"[Crawford] has done more for our program than we could ever hope to thank him, or repay him for," Millbrook coach Jake Forestiere said. "He's an exemplary kid. I'm proud to be associated with him, to have known him, and to continue to know him."
Joe Jessen, the 2011 189-pound state champion, faced Rockbridge County's Addison Siler in the championship matchup.
Jessen was in control from the beginning and pinned Siler at 1:14 to win the 195-pound championship.
"I pinned Siler last year late in the match," Jessen said. "This year, [Siler] had obviously progressed, but overall I felt like I peaked at the right time. Our coaches did a great job. They ground us into the mat for a couple of months, but towards the end, they knew exactly what to do to keep us in shape and make us feel good.
"In [the Siler] match, I went from a sweep into a turk, then I brought his foot to his head. He started squealing in pain, the light switch went on, and I started smelling the blood in the water. I heard the coaches yelling, 'get him, get him, stick him now,' so I ended up throwing the half [nelson] and he was giving up a lot. I kept his head down and ran him over with the half-nelson, and ended up getting the pin when I needed it."
Jessen, who finished at 48-3 on the season and 154-22 in his career, will wrestle at Old Dominion University next year.
"Joe [Jessen] just went out there and did what Joe's capable of doing," Forestiere said. "He is a real physical specimen at 195 pounds. His athleticism is going to carry him far when he goes to the next level. His pin moved us up to fourth place, out of a tie with Fauquier."
Millbrook freshman Dylan Wisman's superb first varsity season culminated in reaching the 138-pound championship match against Christiansburg junior Dallas Smith.
Smith held a 2-0 advantage at the end of the first period, and went up 4-0, before Wisman scored on a reversal in the second minute of the second period.
In the third period, Wisman scored two on a take down, for a 4-4 tie at 1:20, and appeared to make a points-earning move at :36, but none were awarded, and Smith gained two points on another call that drew the ire of Millbrook fans, for a 6-4 win.
"[Wisman] is a competitor," Forestiere said. "He went through this entire tournament beating six of the top eight guys in the state. A couple of technical things in the finals, a couple of judgment calls that went [Christiansburg's] way. We're not gonna get any calls [in states at Salem]. It's a very pro-Christiansburg crowd."
In head-to-head match-ups of area wrestlers, James Wood's Taylor Swartz recovered from his surprise loss in the Region II 113-pound championship bout to Sherando sophomore Jacob Guthridge, to beat Guthridge, 3-2, for third place at the state tournament. In the 220-pound bracket, James Wood's Mark Bean won a 2-0 decision over Millbrook's DeAndre Johnson.
Millbrook's 103 points earned fourth place, and James Wood (39.5) was 13th.
Christiansburg won six individual championships to rack up 205 points for its 11th consecutive team championship, followed by Brookville (123.5), New Kent (119) and Fauquier (97) placed fifth.