COLUMBUS — Heading into the Division II state title match, Aurora wrestling coach Johnny Papesh had a simple strategy for his team.
"Have fun," Papesh said. "We’re going to do Aurora stuff."
Keep in mind, Aurora was in the position of ultimate underdog in the state final. Their opponent was St. Paris Graham, who had never lost a match in the OHSAA Dual Team Tournament. The only time the Falcons had not won the Division II state title in the previous six tournaments was last year — when Graham bumped up to win the Division I state title.
Given the conditions, there was nothing for the Greenmen to do but let it fly.
Graham maintained its grip on the crown with a 38-24 win, but Aurora gave more than a good account of itself, picking up the Division II state runner-up trophy in its first trip to the state duals.
Papesh made it clear both he and his seniors were in no mood for moral victories.
"We thought we could win it. I’ve got seniors crying because they wanted this so much," Papesh said. "We gave it everything we had and we came up short. We’ve got a lot of work to do."
Graham coach Travis McIntosh noted the final was the closest Division II match his team had at the state duals in years.
"It was a tight one, for sure," McIntosh said. "This was a match people have been talking about since the beginning of the season. Everyone wanted to see Graham vs. Aurora. I’m glad Graham came out to wrestle."
The Greenmen did the hard work earlier Sunday, smashing Millersburg West Holmes 61-12 in the quarterfinals and then taking care of Lisbon Beaver 36-25.
It was Graham’s dominance in the lower weights which gave them the title as only 113-pounder Nick Willingham won early for Aurora via a 6-0 decision.
"You can’t lose seven of the first eight and expect to win, especially against Graham," Papesh said.
Both coaches noted the pivotal match came at 145 pounds. Aurora senior Kyle Petersen was up 5-1 and seemed to be in control, but Graham’s Jack Mefford scored a defensive pin at 3:52.
"That’s the match right there," Papesh said.
Down 32-3 after the 152-pound bout, Aurora didn’t give up. In fact, the Greenmen rattled off five straight wins.
Aurora got a 12-4 major decision from freshman Dylan Fishback at 160 pounds, a 15-0 technical fall from senior Willie McGhee at 170, a pin in 5:20 from junior Ethan Anderson at 182, a 6-3 decision from freshman Evan Anderson at 195 and a 3-2 decision in the ultimate tie-breaker from senior Colin McNamara.
It wasn’t enough, however, as Graham’s early lead was too much to overcome.
"We’re not done yet," McGhee said. "We’ve just got to start working our [butts] off. It’s remarkable to get here."
Aurora’s performance in the semifinals had Papesh hugging his team after the match. The contest wasn’t as close as the score indicated, as Papesh chose to forfeit the final two weight classes to the Beavers
"We wrestled great," Papesh said of the semifinal. "That’s a great team we just beat. They’ve got a lot of studs. Every one did their jobs."
One key was Aurora gave up only one pin to the Beavers. Papesh highlighted 126-pounder Brian Kennedy’s effort, as he avoided the pin with a 14-1 loss to Beaver’s Cole McComas, who is a two-time state runner-up.
Aurora went 9-3 in wrestled matches vs. Beaver. Highlights included Fishback getting a 14-1 major decision over two-time state placer Skyler Lasure and a 16-1 technical fall from McGhee.
The clinching win came from McNamara, who pinned Beaver’s Nicholas Wukotich in 2:23, getting Aurora’s lone pin of the match.
"He was pretty excited about that," Papesh said.
Papesh said the Greenmen were workmanlike vs. West Holmes.
"We took care of business," Papesh said. "We have to take it one match at at time."
The turning point of the quarterfinal match came at 126 pounds. Kennedy was leading 5-4 late when he was hit with a second stalling call, sending the match to overtime.
After Kennedy was denied a takedown in the sudden victory period, West Holmes’ Kendall Weber put Kennedy on his back and won 10-5.
The result seemed to fire up the Greenmen. Down 12-4 at that point, Aurora won the last 10 bouts of the match and all but one of those by technical fall, pin or forfeit.
The Greenmen got first-period pins from Fishback (18 seconds), McGhee (58 seconds) McNamara (37 seconds) and 220-pounder Dante Leone.