DULUTH, Ga. -- It was the day Eric Elrod had been waiting for. His Sonoraville wrestling team, with eight competitors in the Georgia traditional state Class AA semifinals, was poised to give multiple-time champion and heavy favorite Jefferson a run for the team title.
However, an 0-for-5 start to the semifinal round had Elrod and his group hanging their heads. Zane Holder changed all that. The 189-pound senior, who was a disappointing seventh seed after the sectional round last week, turned the day around with a 33-second pin of Westminster's Julian Houk.
The losing streak broken, Tyler Smith edged defending state champion Zach Allen of Jefferson at 215, and Will Patterson, giving up many pounds to Dublin's Ben Lanier, rallied from a 7-0 deficit to get a second-period pin.
As a result, Sonoraville trails Jefferson 152.5 points to 141. The Dragons have four wrestlers in the final round, but Sonoraville has more depth remaining in the consolations.
"Zane Holder got it going and I guess it got contagious," a rejuvenated Elrod said. "Our heavies have carried us since day one. They all weigh about the same. They're almost like three ugly twins. None of them have ever been this far before. Will Patterson gives up 100 pounds every time he wrestles, but to see him go out there and persevere like he does ... he's a man and it has nothing to do with wrestling.
"Sitting over in the corner earlier, I wanted to cry and lick my wounds, but thank goodness our kids have some character. I'm not going to say I quit believing, but my faith was certainly tested.
"What we did with those last three matches is I think we got ourselves back into the title hunt. I know Jefferson has four in the finals and we have three, but we have to more than they do in the tournament. I think we'll get some head-to-head matches tomorrow in the consolation rounds.
In 30 minutes time the Firebirds went from possible epic failure to possible shocker. Smith, for one, believes it can be done after getting the most impressive win of his career.
"He's a returning state champ and I knew I had to have my best match to make the finals," he said of Allen. "We can pull it off. It's going to take us getting titles and the others coming back to get third. The semis didn't go as planned, but there's a new plan now."
Added Patterson, who was nearly pinned in the opening period: "Zane got it started. He pinned his kid, our 215 beat the defending state champ and I just beat my guy. If we come out with fire tomorrow, we can do it."
Not so fortunate was Heritage. The Generals entered the tournament with 10 wrestlers, but a rough showing in the quarterfinals left only two. Entering today, Landon Reed (125) is the only one left with title hopes. Heritage (84 points) enters today in fourth place, well behind favorite Gilmer County (140.5 points). Another 7-AAA rival, LaFayette, is in fifth place with 71 points and has finalists Preston McCalmon (135) and Dalton Smith (145).
Other wrestlers to make the championship around are Murray County's Dalton Lane (152) in Class AAA. Chattooga's Brandon Stiffles (140) in AA and Gordon Lee's Mika Clark (112) and Dwane Spires (119) and Trion's Austin McGraw (189)in Class A.