Of course it came down to the final match. That's the understanding the Mukwonago and Arrowhead wrestling teams have come to know in their longstanding rivalry.
Wrestling on a rare Friday night, the Warhawks emerged from Mukwonago High School with a 34-26 victory, staving off Mukwonago's late push to win the annual regular-season clash for a sixth straight season. There's a catch to that, though, as Mukwonago has won three of the last four conference tournament titles, with the next opportunity coming Saturday. The Classic 8 Conference stopped recognizing a dual-meet champion last year.
The match was over when Arrowhead junior Blake Weber delivered an 8-5 win over Nick Armstrong at 113 pounds, clinching the dual that would have ended differently had Armstrong been able to deliver a pin. It was close, too, with Armstrong twice turning Weber for nearfall points as the crowd volume escalated.
But a number of razor-thin decisions that went Arrowhead's way earlier in the match necessitated that Armstrong get the full 6 points (a tie in team score would have favored AHS on criteria), and he was compelled to wrestle differently than if a simple win would have sufficed.
The biggies came early, when Arrowhead's Austin Yde trailed Mukwonago's Joe Mattson heading into the third period at 145 pounds, 5-4. Yde was able to pin the state-ranked Mattson at the edge of the circle with just 33 seconds left in the match, eliciting the night's biggest cheer from Arrowhead fans.
"He was turning me to my back, and I heard my dad (Shawn) yell from the crowd that his head was there, so I reached back and grabbed his head and ended up getting a cradle locked up and popped him over to his back," Yde said. "He was out of bounds at first, but I ended up pulling him in and getting the pin."
At 182, Zach Barbee took down Mayson Madden with 10 seconds left to tie the match at 5-5, held off Madden's final escape attempt before the buzzer and won 23 seconds into sudden-death overtime, 7-5.
"He's a lot stronger than me," Barbee said. "I've been at 160 the last couple weeks, so I was bumping up for it. At first, it was kind of 'go out there for a win,' but once I knew he was a lot stronger, it was more about keeping it close and not letting him get too much. Once I got that last takedown ... he slipped right off of me."
At that point, Arrowhead had a 28-7 lead with five matches to go, but Mukwonago's upper weights made the match thrilling. Mitch Geisler and Mitch Major pinned their opponents in the first period at 195 and 220, respectively, and Tom Stingl sent the gym up for grabs with a third straight pin at heavyweight, coming in 3:19. Stingl was visibly pumped up as the score pulled to within 28-26.
"After losing an overtime decision and to get falls the last three weights, I'm real proud of all three of those guys," Mukwonago coach Jon Wierzbicki said. "Tom Stingl, he's weighing in somewhere near 200 pounds, so it's a little bit of David and Goliath out there, and he found a way to get it done. It was a fun dual. It stings a little because we came up short, but I know our guys will respond in the right way."
Aidan Yde defeated Nathan Smith at 103, 4-1, and Weber held off Armstrong's attempts at a pin to keep the win intact.
"He gave us a shot at the end," Wierzbicki said of Armstrong. "Everyone always looks at the end, the kids that are out there. He gave the crowd a thrill, but it obviously wasn't on him. We've been here before. We've had a tough loss and hopefully we respond well and come back and wrestle well at the tournament and get going for the tournament series."
The marquee matchup came at 138, where Arrowhead's top-ranked 132-pound wrestler Andrew Crone met Mukwonago's Hank Mattson, ranked No. 5 at 138. Crone won a 9-3 decision, one match after Cory Cinelli had secured the first pin of the night for Arrowhead at 1:46 in the 132-pound class.
"It's like anything else, you have to fight all the way through," Arrowhead coach Jeremy Miller said. "Pins are huge; they always are. When you give them up, it hurts, and when you get them, it's great."
Mitch Berenz took a 3-1 win over Kirk Zylke in another top-flight meeting at 160 that went Arrowhead's way. Warhawks freshman Rudy Otters went down 5-0 at 126 pounds against Nate Arquinego but battled back for an 8-6 decision at 126.
"It's pretty much just another dual. with Mukwonago," Yde said. "It happens every year. People come up with big wins; it's always a back and forth dual meet, and the last couple years, we've been able to come up with a win."
Darius Schwartz (tech fall) and Alex Winski (decision) both had wins for Mukwonago. Josh Cinelli added a tech fall for Arrowhead.