BILLINGS — Tucker Nadeau is a young man of few words and fewer outwardly expressed emotions, so it was no surprise when his response to winning the 182-pound Class AA state title was muted relative to the flamboyant reactions of other champions.
He calmly stood up on the mat and shook hands with his opponent, but after exchanging pleasantries with the opposing coaches, even the normally stoic Nadeau couldn’t contain his excitement any longer.
He sprinted across the mat and leaped into the waiting arms of his father, Marc Nadeau, as both flashed smiles big enough to light up Rimrock Auto Arena.
“We’re not that much of a touchy, feely, huggy family, so it was kind of surprising,” Marc, also an assistant coach for Flathead, said. “But it felt really good. That’s a lot of muscle to hold up.”
Tucker was one of three Flathead wrestlers to capture individual championships on Saturday, adding to the joy that came along with a second consecutive team title.
The Braves ran away from the Class AA field, besting second-place Bozeman by 66 points.
“They competed to win matches, to score,” Flathead head coach Jeff Thompson said. “We just put the foot on the gas and kept it on the gas. I’ve never been part of a team that wanted it so bad.”
With Marc in the coach’s chair for the first time since Little Guy wrestling, Tucker earned a second-period pin with ease, sticking Missoula Sentinel’s Dylan Goforth for the third time this season.
It was a fitting end to an historic year for the senior, who racked up a 46-0 record and was taken down just once all season.
“It was really cool to have (Marc) out there for my last match,” Tucker said. “I didn’t even know he was going to coach me. It was just a last-minute decision.”
“It was just a pleasure to sit in my chair and watch him win the state final,” Marc added. “Pretty nerve-wracking for me.
“I tried to be calm.”
Payton Hume, Flathead’s first individual champion of the day, dominated two-time state champion Brock Bushfield for an 11-1 major decision in the 170-pound finals.
“Right away, you could tell he wanted it,” Thompson said. “You can almost see it in their eyes. I’ve been around this sport for so many years, and he had that tiger in his eyes.”
Hume’s victory set the stage for Nadeau’s pin and the all-Flathead matchup in the heavyweight class between teammates Michael Lee and Alex Paull, the first battle of Braves in the state finals since 2008.
The 285-pounders engaged in an “all-out brawl,” as Paull described it, with Lee emerging as the victor in a 3-2 decision via ultimate tie breaker.
“I really enjoyed it,” Lee said of wrestling his teammate. “It’s been our goal since Day 1. We were going to be in the finals together.”
Paull advanced to the finals with one of Flathead’s most impressive semifinal victories.
He controlled defending heavyweight champion Jeff Queer of Butte, who had pinned Paull twice earlier this year, for a 13-5 major decision.
“That’s the most nervous I’ve ever been before a match,” Paull said. “I had just been working all season with the one goal in mind — to beat Jeff Queer.”
While Flathead impressed in the championship bracket, it also received major contributions from its wrestlers in the consolation bracket.
The Braves ended the tournament with 15 state placers, the most in program history with 13 weight classes.
Glacier failed to place any individual wrestlers, but the Wolfpack scored more points as a team than the past two years combined.
“Obviously, it was disappointing going 0-4 in the round to place, but there (are) some real positive things to take from the season,” Glacier head coach Ross Dankers said. “We only lose two seniors and saw some tremendous growth from our underclassmen, who have already proven they are not afraid to work in the offseason.”
Flathead’s Jaden MacNeil finished second at 132, falling to four-time state champion Charlie Klepps of Billings Senior in the championship match.
Kenyon Fretwell added a third-place finish, and three Flathead grapplers finished fourth.
One member of the trio of fourth-place finishers was Tilynne Vasquez at 103, who recorded the highest state finish for a female wrestler in Montana history.
At times this season, Flathead’s ability to repeat as the Class AA champion was questioned.
The Braves finished behind Bozeman at a pair of tournaments, leading some to speculate the Hawks had passed them by for good.
But Saturday, on the state’s biggest stage, Flathead proved not all that much has changed in a year.
The Braves are on top — still.
“We battled hard,” Hume said, “and we got what we deserved.”