BILLINGS — It’s been a year of longshots for Eureka’s Garrett Graves. And the Lions senior has been deft at finding a timely Hail Mary.
The unbeaten 182-pounder found himself in a tough spot in the second round of his state title match against Glasgow’s Tony Kaiser on Saturday at the All- Class State Wrestling Tounament: on his back in a nearfall and gripped in a tight headlock.
He had been rolling until that point. The Eureka boys had already secured a state team title, entering the championship rounds with an insurmountable lead, and he quickly worked his way to a 9-2 lead in the second round.
Then, he got caught out of position on a restart, giving up a reversal and falling into a nearfall. Despite more than 10 seconds on his neck, he rolled out of danger and survived into the third period with a 9-7 lead.
Wrestling a third period for the first time this season, Graves quickly got some cushion with an escape, but surrendered a takedown and saw his lead dwindle to one point. Still, he was able to gain points on an escape and net a late takedown to win 13-9, completing a perfect 43-0 season.
“It was kind of scary,” Graves said. “This was my first match that went into the third period in Montana. I was pretty tired.
“My strategy going in, I was trying to be fast and quick with it, but he’s a really tough wrestler. He almost had me and one time he was holding me for a long time. He’s very good. He caught my mistakes. Good on him.
“I was really tired through the whole match. When he had me on my back there, I got choked a bit because he had a tight squeeze on me. I was out of breath. Getting out of that was a really big relief. I was still ahead. He kept coming with it and it was tough until the last takedown.”
It’s the first state wrestling title for Graves and helped lock in the Lions’ first ever state wrestling title. Eureka finished with 198 points to top defending champ Colstrip by 34 points.
It’s also the second state title this season for Graves and a large group of the Lions team, which saw Graves complete a Hail Mary pass to win the Class B football title this fall.
“It’s crazy,” Graves said. “I can’t ask for much more. I guess I’m going to try and win a state championship in track. That’s the goal. My team, I couldn’t be more proud of these guys. We’ve been working our butts off all year. I think we have the toughest wrestling room in Montana and it shows.”
Eureka had four wrestlers finish second at the tournament on an historic night at the MetraPark Arena.
Four wrestlers completed a career sweep by winning four state championships, including Colstrip’s Clayton Currier, who defeated Eureka’s Jonathan Schmidt by major decision in the B/C 138 final. Eureka’s Cannan Smith (152), Joe Fehr (205) and Kaelan Yanak (285) also lost in the finals.
Nathan Schmidt finished fifth at 113 pounds, Kahaden Bakkila was fourth at 120 and Hank Dunn fourth at 126. Colby Hammack was fourth at 170 and Austyn Sherwood was sixth at 182 pounds.
“They wrestled hard, they wrestled with a lot of heart,” Eureka coach Dan Lemer said. “They came here with a mission, they set out to accomplish it and they did.
“We challenged the guys all week about coming down and making a statement the first couple days. These guys, they love challenges. They stepped up, they took the challenge and they got us off to a good start.”
Libby sophomore Buddy Doolin picked up his first state championship in emphatic faction at 103 pounds. Doolin piled up an 8-0 lead before surrendering a takedown in the third period. He cushioned the lead again, however, running away with an 11-2 decision while helping the Greenchain to a seventh place finish.
“I wasn’t completely focused (at first), I was really pumped up to be in the state finals,” Doolin said. “I wanted to take more shots and be more solid. Not do anything stupid, do any dumb moves. It feels good. I’ve been working for it. It feels really nice.”
Libby’s Dillon Yeadon finished sixth at 113 pounds, Dylan Parrish fifth at 170 and Clancy Gout sixth at 205.
Ronan finished third in Class B/C behind a single state title, from Noah Cheff at 132 pounds. Hunter Peterson (third, 126), Zane Walchuk (fourth, 103), Caden Rhine (fifth, 103), Owen Brown (fifth, 120) and Tyler Houle (fifth, 160) also placed.
Bigfork finished 27th behind a third place finish from Matt Farrier at 170 pounds.
Cascade won the Class C championship designation, finishing 17th overall in Class B/C.
Havre dominated in Class A, winning the division by 126.5 points over second place Columbia Falls.
The Blue Ponies had five individual champions and had two wrestlers win their fourth state title at the meet, Parker Filius at 145 pounds and Jace Stokes at 205.
Both Filius and Stokes topped a Flathead Valley wrestler to complete the feat. Filius pinned Columbia Falls’ Ben Windauer and Stokes pinned Whitefish’s Travis Catina.
The night’s other four-timer, Belgrade’s Sawyer Degen, beat Polson’s Parker Adler by a 4-0 decision.
Columbia Falls placed nine wrestlers, led by Windauer’s second place finish. Kyler Koski (fourth, 285), Austin Nelson (sixth, 113), Winfield West (fifth, 120), Ayden Role (fifth, 126), Hunter Peterson (sixth, 132), Colton McPhee (sixth, 160), Storm Kemppainen (fifth, 170) and Jakob Freeman (sixth, 182) also placed.
Polson finished fifth overall behind second place finishes from Adler and Hunter Fritsch (160). Bridger Wenzel finished third at 126 pounds, Kedrick Baker finished fourth at 103, Cameron Brown fourth at 145 and Mateo Quinones fifth at 113.
Whitefish finished 18th, with Catina the only placer.