MACON - The parents and boosters from Eastside High School were cheering and screaming the loudest at the Macon Coliseum, as their wrestling team made history Friday night.
The three-time defending Area 8 Champion Eagles (28-3 overall, No. 1 in Class AAAA by GASports.com) battled long and hard throughout the entire tournament. Eventually, it earned them the chance to matchup against 10th-ranked Ringgold for the first time in the finals of the GHSA State Duels Wrestling Championships.
Ringgold, who defeated Tucker in the semi-finals, has been a wrestling dynasty over the years, winning the state duels title in 2001, 2004 and 2005.
Yet Eastside coach Brandon Blakeman and his squad is not at all intimidated.
"We told our guys all week (not) to wrestle to win close matches," said Blakeman. "Wrestle to dominate and you will win those close matches."
And that is what the Eagles have done for much of the tournament, defeating Marist 58-12 during the opening round.
The Eagles destroyed Effingham County, 54-20, with outstanding performances from Karl Williams (215 pounds), Joel Stafford (119), Michael Green (125), Patrick George (145) and Dalton Temple (160) to help them advance to the semi-finals against Northwest Whitfield.
Eastside took advantage of Northwest Whitfield's fatigue and slothfulness after the Bruins' epic upset of defending AAAA State Champion Stockbridge, 34-33.
The Eagles wasted no time building momentum against the Bruins, as Trevor Bailey (135), David Bender (152), Jonathan Palmer (171), Ardest "A-Train" Carter (189) and Cody Durden (103) delivered key pins to send them into the championship.
The abovementioned Eastside wrestlers were all defeated in the semi-finals last year against Stockbridge.
This year eight Eastside wrestlers went undefeated for much of the tournament. But Bender, Williams and Palmer were the only ones who won all three of their matches by pins.
"They were phenomenal today," praised Blakeman. "They wrestled better than I have ever seen them in my four years at Eastside. It goes back to that junior and senior group (who) were in semis last year, and they knew what it felt like to lose. They were not going to let that happen again, and the way they wrestled showed that."