By Mitchell Boatman
AUBURN HILLS – Whitehall’s Reilly Brown is now a two-time state wrestling champion.
But he had to earn his second consecutive title the hard way on Saturday, sneaking past Matt Santos of Saginaw Swan Valley in four overtimes in the 135-pound title match in the Division 3 individual state finals at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
Brown wasn’t the only Whitehall wrestler to earn a state title on Saturday.
His teammate, Jwan Britton, scored two points in the final seconds of his match against Zach Blevins of Dundee, capturing a 4-3 victory and the Division 3 crown in the 140-pound class.
Hesperia also had a strong day, placing three wrestlers in the Division 4 finals in their respective weight classes. But all three – Mark Workman, Davian Gowens and Gerrit Yates – lost heartbreaking matches in the title round and finished as state runners-up.
Spencer Knizacky of Mason County Central also finished as state runner-up at 160 pounds in Division 4.
Brown, a Whitehall senior, came into his championship match as the defending state champion at 125 pounds. But waiting for him in the finals was Santos, another defending state champ who won his title at a different weight last season.
The match certainly lived up to its advance hype.
After neither wrestler scored in the first two periods, Brown managed the first point on an escape. Santos didn’t give in, however, and scored the tying point with just 18 seconds remaining in the third period to force overtime.
Neither wrestler managed a point in the first three extra sessions. This came as no surprise to Brown.
“We’re both pretty defensive wrestlers and I knew it was going to come down to a situation like it did,” he said.
The match then went to the fourth and final overtime, or ultimate tie-breaker. Again no point was scored, but because Brown was in the top position, he was awarded a ride out point and the victory.
Brown, who finished the season at 51-1, had no issues with the match going as long as it did.
“The longer it went, the more exciting it got,” he said.
Britton, Whitehall’s other state champion, won his title in similarly exciting fashion.
Britton, who finished his season at 51-2, came into the tournament ranked second in the state at 140 pounds. But in the finals he had had to face Dundee’s Zach Blevins, who was ranked first.
The two met in last weekend’s team state semifinals, where Britton pulled out a victory in the final seconds.
Saturday’s match was incredibly similar.
Britton fell behind early when Blevins got a two-point near fall in the first period. Britton wasted no time getting a reversal to tie the score.
Blevins led 4-3 after scoring early in the third period, and seemed headed for victory with the clock ticking down.
But Britton managed a takedown with just two seconds remaining, giving him two points, the lead and a state title. He was at a loss for words following the match.
“It feels great,” he said. “I don’t know what else to say, it feels great.”
Both wrestlers credit their success to their coach, Cliff Sandee.
“(We) couldn’t do it without him,” Brown said. “Every day, every practice he gets us hyped.”
“(Sandee) is a big role model in my life,” Britton said. “He’s a huge reason why I won this title.”
For as much joy as there is in Whitehall, there is just as much heartbreak in Hesperia. The Panthers sent three wrestlers to the title round in Division 4, and all three lost in devastating fashion.
The first Panther to hit the mat was Workman (171). He came into the championship at 34-0, and seemed to be well on his way to an undefeated year.
Workman built a 5-0 lead near the end of the second period in the finals, but Erik Birchmeier of New Lothrop got two points at the end of the period and stole the momentum.
Birchmeier tied the match with three points in the final minute of regulation, then won in overtime 7-5. Workman finished 3-1 in the tournament and 34-1 overall.
Hesperia’s rough day was just getting started.
The next Panther up was Gowens at 125 pounds. Gowens fell behind 4-0 early in the match against Burton Bentley’s Robert Rogers, but found a way to come back.
He scored four points in the final 12 seconds of the second period to tie the match. The score stayed tied until Gowens got two points with 16 seconds to go in regulation.
But Rogers earned two points for a near fall with just one second left, tying the score 6-6 and forcing overtime. Rogers registered a takedown halfway through the extra session to polish off an undefeated season as state champion.
Gowens finished the tournament at 3-1 and went 43-4 on the season.
There was still more disappointment for the Panthers to endure.
In the final match of the day, Yates led Cole Hersh of New Lothrop 7-2 with just 18 seconds remaining in the 145-pound finals.
But Hersh was able pin Yates just before time expired, leaving the Panthers stunned once again.
Yates finished 53-4 on the season and 3-1 in the tournament.
Also competing for a state championship was Knizacky (160) of Mason County Central.
He won his first three matches before losing a 4-2 decision to Kyle Johnson of Hudson in the championship match. Knizacky fell behind 4-0 early and ran out of time in his comeback attempt.
He finished 52-3 on the season.