GRAND JUNCTION --or eight years, the Bulldogs have finished as the Western Slope regional wrestling champions. This year was the first time in those eight years that those Bulldogs weren't from Moffat County.
"Going in, I felt like Palisade was the favorite," Moffat County coach Roman Gutierrez said. "We had our chances but didn't come through, and Palisade did."
Palisade did all the right things, particularly on Saturday afternoon. That included winning six matches in the final seconds with the clincher coming in the championship round. In that match, Palisade's 171-pound Levon Davis had a last-second takedown against Eagle Valley's Brendan Best to secure a 188.5 to 183.5 team win against Moffat County.
Moffat County, the seven-time defending regional champions, opened Saturday's semi--final round with an 88 to 85.5 lead against Palisade. In the championship semifinal round, the Bulldogs went 4-3, with wins from Cory Vigil (103 pounds), Jake Breslin (119) Korey Kostur (145) and Nick Navratil (189). In the consolation bracket Matt Kincheloe (125), Lyle Schaffner (135) and Drew Turner (140) kept their state dreams alive with wins.
After that round Moffat County was still in the lead 152 to 147.5.
Then things got ugly.
Moffat County went 2-4 in the next round of consolations. That knocked four Bulldogs (Schaffner, Kincheloe, Turner and Clancy Garoutte) out of state-tournament contention and allowed Palisade to take a slim two-point lead.
"That round was when it all started," Gutierrez said. "Up to that point, our young guys had come through, but I think they reached their limits."
Those four wrestlers will be a big part of Moffat County's future. Kincheloe and Turner are sophomores and Garoutte and Schaffner are freshmen.
"Overall, I was impressed with the progress the young guys made this year," Gutierrez said. "I expect them to be state qualifiers next year."
During the next round, things went from bad to worse.
Brice Boling secured his second trip to state by dominating Aaron Lujan of Delta with a technical fall. Boling has two third-place regional finishes to his credit as a junior.
In a match that everybody will point at as the difference-maker in the team race was Moffat County's Daniel Cramblett and Palisade's Landon Barnes for third place at 152 pounds.
Cramblett was 3-0 against Barnes this season and had dominated the matches until late in the third period of Friday's match. That's when Barnes threw Cramblett to his back and almost earned a pin. Mentally that move may have turned the tide, but it didn't help that Cramblett was frustrated by getting pinned in the semifinals against Rifle's Tim Long.
In the consolation championship, Barnes kept Cramblett from getting a rhythm and was able to earn a reversal in the third period to tie it up at 3-3. In overtime, Cramblett nearly earned the first takedown as both wrestlers fell out of bounds. On the restart, both wrestlers went to the mat tied up, but Barnes earned the advantage and the points.
"That was a six-point swing," Gutierrez said. "There were a lot of factors that cost us, but you look at that match, and it's the most obvious."
To make things worse for Cramblett, he had to defend his spot at state with a wrestle-back match. By then he had cleared his head, and he dominated Golden's Joey Gomez, 7-0, to ensure his spot.
Moffat County still had its chances to pull off the win in the championship round. Palisade had a nine-point lead going into the round with four wrestlers in the championship. Moffat had the same number of wrestlers.
"We needed to win three matches and hope Palisade lost all four," Gutierrez said.
Last year, Moffat won all four of its final matches, and Montrose lost four of five, which allowed the Bulldogs to win by half a point.
Gutierrez said that once again there was a chance his wrestlers could pull out the comeback.
After Vigil lost to returning state placer Cutter Garrison, 12-1, it was down to the final three Moffat wrestlers.
Breslin had a 1-1 record against Delta's Thomas Foley going into the final. The match showed that the even record didn't lie. Neither wrestler earned points in the first period. In the second period, Breslin was penalized a point for locking hands. In the third period, Foley was penalized a point for stalling with 18 seconds remaining. It went into overtime tied at one.
Breslin was the early aggressor and nearly earned a takedown with 36 seconds remaining, but it was ruled he was out of bounds as he gained control. Then Foley grabbed a double-leg takedown with 18 seconds left to win.
Korey Kostur brought Moffat County within four points when he dominated Palisade's Zac Harvey 12-4 for a major decision.
"He was wrestling really defensive," Kostur said. "I expected him to go for some throws, but I could tell he wasn't going to take any chances."
After Kostur's match, the champ--ionship was still in reach. Nav--ratil had a winnable match ahead, and Palisade's two rem--aining wrestlers had difficult assignments.
Eagle Valley's Best was ahead of Palisade's Davis, 3-2, as time ticked down in the match. With three seconds left Davis got behind Best and took him to the mat. Best bounced back up, and somewhere in all of that action time expired. The main official called that time ran out before Davis had control, but the side official overruled the call and gave Davis the win.
"There was no way that was a takedown," Gutierrez said. "But there's not much one can do after the call is made."
Davis' win sealed the deal for Palisade.
"Except for one round, I was pretty pleased with our guys," Gutierrez said. "It is encouraging for next year."
Six wrestlers are moving on to state, and next year, 11 wrestlers with regional experience will return. That count doesn't include Levi Weber and Cody Norman, who were injured this year but were on varsity at one time.