‘Wait till next year’: Chargers, Hawks come up empty-handed, get much-needed experience in wrestling state tournaments

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GREENSBORO — Seaforth grappler Layne Armstrong looked like he was down for the count.

He was trailing, 9-0, against an aggressive Abraham Taha of West Davidson in the opening round of the NCHSAA 2A State Wrestling Championships. But Armstrong staged an unbelievable comeback to win, 15-14, and advance to Friday’s second round.

Armstrong, a 113-pounder, notched the first-ever win for a Seaforth wrestler at a state championship tournament. He and 3A 220-pounder Jake Dunning of Northwood were the only Chatham County wrestlers to advance in the winner’s bracket after the first day.

Dunning had to go in deep water for a 4-4 overtime win against Tayshaun Glover of Dudley.

Five Chatham County wrestlers got knocked off in the opening round and dropped down into the consolation bracket: Andrew Kimbrel (138 lbs.) and Ethan Kuball (160 lbs.) for the Chargers; Lockard Bowen (120 lbs.), Chance Cody (126 lbs.) and Judge Lloyd (152 lbs.) for the Hawks.

“We’re a brand new program,” Seaforth coach Ryan Armstrong said, justifiably proud of the season the Hawks have put together. “We have four kids at the state tournament. Out of the four, there’s only one that’s ever wrestled more than a year.”

That would be his son, Layne.

Stepping out into the Greensboro Coliseum, the mecca of North Carolina high school wrestling, is every wrestler’s dream. But it also can be intimidating for the uninitiated.

“This is the first time these three (first-year) kids have actually wrestled in front of 300 people, 400 people. It’s huge,” Armstrong said. “We watched them when we walked them out. It was amazing to see their awe factor, like ‘Wow!’ … We’ve got to do a better job on our part to work out the freshman jitters.”

Seaforth assistant coach Pete Rogers said nerves played a part in Layne Armstrong’s disastrous first period before he came alive in the opening round like Popeye after downing a can of spinach.

“For him to just keep coming and coming and be able to come back, people don’t do that normally, especially at a state tournament,” Rogers said. “You’re not able to come back from that many (points down), so he had to put some things together in order to make that happen. It was just super exciting.”

Taha came out super-charged to start the bout, while Armstrong played defense and blocked shots. It began to unravel when Armstrong was called for an illegal headlock, and Taha followed that up with a double leg blast for a 3-0 lead. The West Davidson wrestler then slapped on a tight armbar and walked it around the head for three back points, then picked up a second penalty point to lead 7-0.

The wrestlers started neutral in the second period, and Taha scored on another double leg takedown. Armstrong escaped, and rocked Taha with a headlock and three back points to trim the lead to 9-6, but he overextended and Taha rolled him through for a reversal and an 11-6 lead.

In the final period, Taha was gassed, while Armstrong poured it on, playing take-him-down, let-him-up. Armstrong cranked a front headlock to bull Taha backwards for a takedown and back points, and ripped a second headlock and back points to clinch the 15-14 victory.

While that match was going on, Ryan Armstrong was at the other end of the coliseum in Bowen’s corner for a match against Josh Novak of Southwest Onslow.

“He ran into a tough kid. A senior. Josh is a freshman. He never wrestled before and he’s at the Big Dance,” Armstrong said.

After falling behind 3-1, Bowen made an ill-fated move and got caught in a pin.

“It happens. We know it,” Armstrong said.

Cody had a stiff challenge against Caleb Deaton of Lincolnton, who won the West regional tournament. Deaton got an immediate single leg takedown, immobilized Cody with an armbar and post, and walked around the head to flatten the Hawk with 30 seconds remaining in the first period.

Lloyd had the misfortune of drawing Jeremiah Price of Surry Central, a two-time NCHSAA state champion with an unblemished 38-0 record this year. Price, an N.C. State commit who has only lost one high school match and has won high school All-American honors, needed just 10 seconds to drop Lloyd to the mat and clamp him with a cradle.

While pleased to have taken contingents to states, Ryan Armstrong and Northwood Head Coach Joe Harris are already looking to build on that foundation for their teams next year and beyond.

Ryan Armstrong issued a prediction that sports fans might remember as the oft-repeated rallying cry of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

“Wait till next year,” he said.

But you get the feeling listening to Ryan Armstrong that it might not take him as long to turn the Hawks into a championship dynamo as it took the long-suffering Dodgers.

“We’re extremely excited,” he said. “We’re going to make a stand next year at the state tournament in both the duals and the individual, and we’re really going to make a stand these kids’ junior year.”

Aside from his son Layne, 126-pounder Chance Cody was the only other Seaforth wrestler to win a bout — a first-round consolation tilt.

“Layne lost 8-7 in the semis, and that kid (Sumter Horton of RS-Central) ended up winning the state championship. (Layne) was up 7-6 with 20 seconds left and the call didn’t go our way, and the kid got 2 points” to advance to the finals, Ryan Armstrong said.

“Layne never recovered from the loss on Friday night,” Ryan Armstrong said. He dropped his next two consolation matches to settle for 6th place.

When it was all over, Cody was one of Seaforth’s biggest surprises.

“The kid came in with a losing record to states, probably should have been knocked out in the first two rounds,” Armstrong said.

“In his first consolation, he was getting beat, and he pushed to the end” — to oust Jemarion Folks of Ayden–Grifton by a 7-6 score, Ryan Armstrong said. “We keep telling everybody we’re a force to be reckoned with when it comes to the third period. … We’re not gassing in the period. We take advantage of those who don’t put the work in.”

As for Northwood, who had three wrestlers at states behind Harris’ first-year leadership, there’s plenty of hope surging through the locker room.

“I think that these guys have a chance to be a very strong team,” Harris said. “They have to come in and put in the work. We can give them the tools they need, but they have to be the ones to work at it and apply it.”

Kimbrel at 138 lbs. and Ethan Kuball at 160 lbs. got bad draws right out of the chute, matched with No. 1 seeds who sent them immediately to the consolation bracket. Dunning won his first match at 220 lbs., but lost in the quarterfinals and again in his first consolation match to end his tournament.

“I think they were excited to be there,” Harris said. “I know they all wanted to go farther so they were disappointed as well, but they all had good spirits afterwards.”

Kimbrel is a senior, but Kuball and Dunning will be back next year.

“Jake and Ethan are wanting to get into the camps and get into the summer stuff and come back next year and hopefully go farther,” Harris said.

He wants to take the Chargers to a summer team camp at Appalachian State, and will be distributing information for day camps and other summer clinics to his wrestlers. He plans to offer weight training and practice time over the summer, as well.

“We’ve got a lot of returning guys,” Harris said. “Hopefully the guys who have been here this year will come in next year and help the new guys coming and get them straight, and tell them what they saw here and tell them that they’ve got to put in the work if they want to go that far.”


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