It looked as if Hixson was going to need a steam shovel to dig itself out Friday, but the Wildcats rebounded from a 17-point deficit six matches in to clinch their sixth consecutive trip to the state wrestling duals tournament.
The 42-29 victory at Signal Mountain gives Hixson a berth in the Class A/AA duals Feb. 1-2 in Franklin.
"I told you it would be close," Hixson coach Garrick Hall said. "The whole team won it, from kids who pinned to kids who had gotten pinned by their guys earlier in the year and were in their matches."
Chris Nicholson, for instance, improved from surrendering six team points to giving up three. He forced the Eagles' Cale Shelton to get a last-seconds takedown for a 9-7 win at 182 pounds.
"The weight classes were all jacked up. We came up with six different scenarios," Hall said. "I had been stressing all day because I knew this could get really close. Signal Mountain has the bullets to go with anybody."
Seniors Steven Sklavenitis (120) and Isaiah Hawthorne (126) came up with pins to fuel the Wildcats' comeback, Hawthorne giving them the lead at 24-23. Isaac Yates added six other points with a forfeit win before sophomore Landon Goforth provided the clincher with a pin in 1:53 with just two bouts remaining. Ameer Jibrin's pin was icing on the cake, and the Wildcats then forfeited the 152-pound match.
Signal Mountain took five of the first six bouts: a technical fall from 160-pound Joe Drennan in the opener, decisions by Shelton and Harrison Hall (195) and pins from Micah Pressley and Jacob Wright. The burst gave the Eagles a 23-6 advantage, but they couldn't hold the lead.
First-year wrestler Konnor Zeigler's 14-9 decision of Hunt Drennan started the Wildcats' seven-match rally.
"I knew there was a chance [for Signal], and we didn't want them to get the momentum," Hall said. "We did a pretty good job on giving up bonus points and not giving them up in places where we had previously."
A Signal win would have put the Eagles in the state duals.
"We gave it our best shot. We knew their lightweights were stacked. We know what we have to fix for next year," Eagles coach Joe Jellison said. "Hixson is tough and has been for many years. They have good coaches and guys who have committed to what they're doing. They'll do well at the state duals."
Hixson won the last A/AA state duals event held in Clarksville in 2009 and the first in Franklin in 2010. The Wildcats finished second to Central in 2011 and third last year.