The big guys came through at crunch time.
Trailing by 19 points with only four matches remaining Saturday in the Class 4 Northwestern District finals, Fauquier’s wrestling team staged a stunning rally to edge Liberty, 219.5-218, for the team championship at Handley in Winchester.
The Falcons finished with six individual champions while Liberty won five weight classes, but the Eagles sent 11 grapplers to the Feb. 16 Region 4C meet in Bealeton with 10 qualifiers for Fauquier and five for Kettle Run. The top four place winners in each district weight division advanced.
The Falcons needed to win all four of the final title matches Saturday to keep Fauquier’s comeback hopes alive as a team. Plus, at least three of the Falcons needed to tally bonus points with pins or technical falls.
And mission accomplished.
The Falcons’ Sam Fisher, Ben Bell, Thomas Heisler and Casey Burr won all four finals and added 5.5 bonus points to ignite a wild Fauquier celebration.
“It was the most exciting finish to any tournament I’ve been associated with,” Fauquier coach Doug Fisher said. “It got crazy.”
Liberty came in as the favorite after beating the Falcons 42-33 in a regular season meet.
“They won, they beat us. We had points out there and we let them take advantage,” Liberty coach Wes Hawkins.
Hawkins pointed to two key semifinal losses that deprived his team of vital points.
Hawkins said 132-pound star freshman Colin Dupill was winning 14-0, but got pinned, and 113-pounder Devin Burrows was also winning late and lost his semi.
The Falcons’ rallying to win made Fisher seem prophetic.
During the preseason, he said the Falcons had their best group of quality wrestlers in the four upper weight classes during his tenure. In fact, he said he would feel comfortable with those four on deck if Fauquier faced a large deficit. He was speaking specifically of dual meets, but his sentiment applied to tournament scoring this weekend.
“It was a matter of everyone firing on all cylinders. I was amazed how the kids responded,” Fisher said. “They pulled us out of a hole. The likelihood of all that happening is small, especially in the finals.”
Burr completed the Falcons’ rally at 285 pounds despite weighing only 210 pounds with his opponent, Handley’s Noah Johnson, weighing about 60 pounds more. Early on the match, Johnson used an illegal slam move on Burr and was assessed a penalty point.
Burr “got up with a smile on his face. That seemed to fire him up,” Fisher said.
Burr later lifted Johnson off his feet and planted him “forcefully,” yet cleanly, on the mat, Fisher said. Then Burr turned Johnson for the decisive fall 45 seconds into the second period.
Sam Fisher began Fauquier’s late rally with a 20-5 technical fall at 182 pounds over Handley’s Kingsley Menifee. Bell followed at 195 with an 8-3 win over Liberty’s Wyheem Vessels before Heisler pinned Sherando’s Aydan Willis at the first-period buzzer on the 220 final. That set up Burr’s clinching pin.
“The great thing that happened was we didn’t have to rely on anyone else,” Fisher said. “It was totally up to us.”
Fauquier earlier registered titles by D.J. Richards (126 pounds) and Gino Camarca (138), but the Falcons found themselves in the precarious position because Liberty launched a powerful spearhead in the middle weight classes to establish the commanding lead.
Jovon Mitchell started a run of four consecutive Liberty champions with his 13-2 major decision at 145 pounds. Bryan Contreras then dominated James Wood’s Joseph Vitola at 152 with a 21-5 technical fall.
Caleb Swinson maintained the momentum by edging the Falcons’ Eric DeWald 3-1 in the first sudden-victory overtime period. Royce Hall followed with a third-period pin over Fauquier’s David DeWald.
Earlier, the Eagles’ Mason Barrett won the 120 title by posting a 17-2 technical fall versus Reece Kuhns of Fauquier. So all 14 Liberty wrestlers contributed points toward the team standings, while 12 of 13 Falcons scored.
Next, Doug Fisher believes the Region 4C team championship will come down to the same two Fauquier County teams with multiple pivotal head-to-head battles.
“Plus, you’ve got some other kids coming in” from the Dulles District, Fisher said. “We’ve got to be a little bit better this week.”
The top four region wrestlers from each class will advanced to the Feb. 21-22 Class 4 state tournament at Tuscarora High.