It's heartbreak times 3 for Tigers
As the Pigeon Forge Tigers waited for their trophy Saturday night at the Williamson County Ag Expo Center, the mood was somber.
While other teams and fans around the arena celebrated, hugs all around combined with tears of joy, for Pigeon Forge the only tears were of frustration.
"Watch them," head coach Greg Foreman said to his team as other squads were presented their championship trophies. "That's what it looks like. Remember this."
While many teams may be pleased with finishing second in the state, this year's Tigers weren't.
A team that seems dually blessed and cursed, the PFHS squad finished as runners-up for the third consecutive year, falling 36-34 to Greeneville in the state finals after an epic comeback from the Greene Devils.
"More than anything, our motto's been, 'Do your job.' And we didn't," Foreman said.
Missing wrestlers in a pair of weight classes — one due to an injury in Friday's semifinal — the Orange and Black squad was already in a 12-point hole when the match started, thanks to a pair of forthcoming forfeits.
But the Tigers got off to a smoking-hot start to begin the match, and it looked as though their fourth-straight trip to state might result with them bringing home the gold.
With three victories right out of the box — from seniors Caleb Poole and Joseph Dodgen and freshman Josh Croley — the team led 15-0.
Even after a defeat at 138, the Tigers remained in control, reeling off pinfall victories from freshman Xavier Bohanan at 145 and Nate Croley at 152.
With the score 27-3 Pigeon Forge, the chances of a state title were soaring.
But Greeneville's Jared Bond gave a strong performance at 170, outlasting Tigers' senior Trevor Reed in overtime for a three-point decision.
Knowing that two weight classes were missing and his best shot would be to wrestle his 182 and 195 wrestlers up a weight class, Foreman did just that, shifting sophomore Alex Breeden up to 195 and senior Cameron Washom up to 220.
The two forfeits — at 170 and 182 — tacked on 12 more points to Greeneville's tally, and suddenly the lead was cut to 27-18.
Then Foreman's gamble didn't pay off, as both of his wrestlers, facing bigger competition, were dominated.
"We had to (make the moves)," Foreman said. "With Isaac (Frye) breaking his collar-bone, we had to do something to try to maximize our points. It didn't work, (but) it didn't hurt."
WIth back-to-back pinfalls, the Greene Devils held their first lead at 30-27 going into the heavyweight match.
The Tigers' Nick Hilley, who improved by leaps and bounds since last year's state appearance, gave it his all to try and secure a pin and six points for the team, but instead finished with a 6-2 decision to tie the overall score at 30-30.
With just two matches to go, Foreman again had decisions to make.
The final two classes, 106 and 113, are both strong spots for the Greeneville team. Senior Atlas Fagundes, at 106, was a state qualifier as a junior at 113. The Greene Devils' 113 wrestler, junior Jon Boatman, was even better. A state-runner up last season at 106, Boatman was the state's second-ranked wrestler at 113 going into the tournament.
Foreman chose to play the odds.
His best chance, he was sure, was to wrestle freshman Matthew Kieta at 106 and freshman Jacob Ruiter at 113.
At this point in their careers, Kieta is the stronger wrestler, so Foreman chose to match him up with Atlas Fagundes in what could be a winnable match.
A pinfall there, and even a loss by pinfall at 113 would only result in a 36-36 tie, with the Tigers looking good in a tie-breaker situation.
Unfortunately, though Kieta wrestled unbelievably well, dominating his senior competition to the tune of a 12-0 decision, a pinfall wasn't in the cards.
In fact, as time expired, Kieta had Fagundes cradled and appeared just seconds from scoring a six-point win and the referee was poised to make the call.
The Devils, though, were saved by the match timer.
At 113, Ruiter came out ready, but wasn't a match for Boatman's experience, strength and skill.
"You just do the best you can and wrestle hard," Foreman said. "You can't expect a freshman to go up against a junior, it was just the way the matches line up, it just fell on his shoulders."
A first-round pinfall sealed the victory for Greeneville.
"They have to keep their heads up and remember this moment and give it another run next year," Foreman said.
"It's hard to swallow three (championship losses) in a row. I think I've got some kind of record for the most state runners-up."
Next year, the Tigers will have to try and make the state run without six graduating seniors — Caleb Poole, Joseph Dodgen, Nate Croley, Trevor Reed, Riley Dowd and Cameron Washom — several of whom have been cornerstones for the program.
"It's really hard losing them," Foreman said. "They've watched this (happen at state) four years in a row (including 2010's 4th-place finish)."
Though it hurts, wrestling season is not over.
Next week will see the region individual tournament, followed the next weekend by the state individuals, where the Tigers are sure to represent Pigeon Forge with a half-dozen or more wrestlers.