MACON - In a bizarre change of events due to the inclement weather entering the championship match Saturday at the Macon Centreplex, the Eastside wrestling squad - who wasn't notified of a schedule change by the GHSA - lost to Ringgold, 38-36.
"It was a crazy day," said Eastside coach Brandon Blakeman. "We go to bed expecting to get up later in the day, preparing ourselves for a 7:45 p.m. championship match. Then I get a call around 8:50 a.m. from Newton Coach (Chris) Andrews saying that you have to start at 10 a.m.
"That is not how you want to start your day (before) wrestling for a state championship," added Blakeman.
The Eagles (28-3 overall) had to make a mad scramble from the hotel back to the Centreplex, which placed more undo pressure and loss of concentration on Blakeman, his staff and his squad.
"When the boys are dead asleep at 9 a.m., their bodies (aren't) ready to wrestle in an hour," said Blakeman. "It wasn't just us; I know a lot of teams won't wrestle on top of their game on Saturday morning."
Ringgold (No. 10 in Class AAAA) move up wrestlers in the weight classes, taking advantage of Eastside's lack of depth. Ringgold did the same in the first round against Cherokee and in the second round against Woodward and Tucker in the semi-finals Friday.
"That goes to show you the importance of depth," admitted Blakeman. "It was like a chess match because they had solid backups."
Ringgold's Cody Canada (from 119 pounds to 125), Michael Temple (from 125 to 130) and Chris Westman (from 189 to 215) thus picked up key pins at higher weight classes.
The Eagles fought hard to keep pace with great performances by Cody Durden (103, pin), Jamarkus Griggs (112, pin), David Bender (152, pin), Jonathan Palmer (171, pin) and Ardest "A-Train" Carter (189, pin).
Joel Stafford (119) and Patrick George (145) won by forfeit, while Karl Williams (215) battled a stomach virus for much of the tournament.
Carter, Bender, Palmer and Stafford were undefeated for much of the tournament, yet Griggs was undefeated, winning by pin from all of his matches.
For now, the Eagles will have to settle as the state duel runner-ups in Class AAAA, yet Blakeman and his squad had to learn a whole new lesson in their quest of winning a state title.
"The one thing that I have learned is not only do you have to have a good first string, but a very solid second string," said Blakeman. "In the last three years, we've barely gone from being a top 20 team to the No. 1 team in the state."
In reality, the Eagles still hold the top ranking in Class AAAA and are still the favorites to capture the traditional state title. In addition, nine Eagles - including defending Class AAAA state champion Joel Stafford - will compete at the Individual State Championship in Gwinnett County next month, hopefully without any incidents.
"We're really excited," said Blakeman. "I am not going to make any promises, but I feel very confident that Eastside will win a state title."
For Newton, it did not fair as well during the duels Friday, particularly on Saturday due to the wintry weather.
On Friday, the Rams were without veteran Joey Joseph (140) and Aaron Reynolds (130), thus falling to Hiram, 46-28, in the first round.
"The kids wrestled very hard (Friday)," said Andrews. "If we had our key players (Joseph and Reynolds), it would have been a different story. All the kids did a great job and they brought the battle to Hiram."
The top performers against the Hornets were Ryan Mitchell (112, points), Corey Ware (119, points), Daniel Mendoza (135, pin), Andrew Terrell (152, points), Travis McDonald (160, pin) and Michael Fellows (HWT, pin).
Newton wrestled in the Class AAAAA consolation match for third place against Forsyth Central on Saturday but was defeated, 46-23.
Mendoza started the Rams off with a win against the Bulldogs. Dylan Flores (103, won by tech), Mitchell (pin), Ware (points) and Fellows (pin) contributed toward the effort.
"The kids have done an excellent job getting here to the tournament," said Andrews. "We have a young team (and) a young squad, and I expect for us to be back next year."