It seemed like a blowout, this Tuesday matchup of the top two high school wrestling teams in Class 5A-6A.
Host team Arab, ranked No. 2 in the second (and most recent) state rankings, jumped out to a 27-0 lead against No. 1 Gardendale in both teams’ third match of the day.
The onslaught started with the 195-pound match, won by Arab’s Jonathan Pugh with a first-round pin. Then Michael Robertson stunned No. 2 ranked Cole Fuller with a first-round pin at 220, giving Arab a 12-0. That extended to 27-0 after Conner Knighten accepted a forfeit at 285; Jaxon Ivey held on for a 5-3 decision at 106; and Cade Dunn accepted a forfeit at 27-0.
Something didn’t feel right, with Gardendale not fielding wrestlers in two of the first five matches.
But there it was: Arab 27, Gardendale 0. What’s more, none of Arab’s wrestlers even trailed at that point.
Then things changed. Then the Rockets proceeded to show why they are a worthy No. 1 in the newly created 5A-6A classification in wrestling.
They won the next four matches – one by pin and three by major decisions – and eventually pulled to within 31-27 with two matches to go before yet another forfeit (to Caleb Roe at 170) ended their chances of victory. An out-of-the-blue pin by Gardendale in the third period of the last match made the final score 37-33.
Arab coach Kyle Routon was happy with the way his wrestlers performed on the day and in the Gardendale match, but he wasn’t making too much of the win over the Rockets – not on this day.
“They had a couple of kids not wrestle,” Routon said. “We had some guys wrestling in different weight classes than what they’ll (eventually) wrestle. It’s still good for the kids to compete.
“But as for as this being some kind of precursor for a future match between these two teams, no.”
Arab and Gardendale had relatively easy matches against the other two teams in the quad match. Arab topped Pelham 55-18 and Hartselle 75-6.
Gardendale defeated Hartselle 56-9 and Pelham 40-29. Pelham defeated Hartselle 72-12.
None of the four teams, it should be pointed out, put out their expected starting lineups for when the matches start to really count. Or, as Routon said, “Everybody’s wrestling in his spot as of now (Tuesday). I know my starting lineup but nobody else does.”
That was expected to begin to change Wednesday when Arab hosted three more teams: McAdory, Athens and Southside. It’ll probably change even more when the 5A-6A Region 7 duals begin Saturday.
Because of pandemic restrictions, the first round of the region duals has been split into two sites. Arab, the region’s top seed, will host matches against No. 4 Alexandria and No. 5 Scottsboro. Oxford, the second seed, will host (3) Southside, (6) Fort Payne and (7) Lincoln.
Two teams from each site will advance to the next round, scheduled for Jan. 5 at a site still to be determined. From there, two teams will emerge from Region 7.
Following Tuesday’s action, Routon said his team is “wrestling pretty good, but we’ve got a lot of room for improvement.”
Still, there were highlights. Robertson’s win over Fuller was the biggest.
“That was a huge, huge match for us,” Routon said. “That kid (Fuller) hadn’t lost a match all year.”
Routon also noted that the match-clinching forfeit at 170 would’ve been an Arab win regardless.
“Celeb Roe is wrestling really well right now,” Routon said. “They weren’t going to beat him.
“Earlier (in the day), against Pelham’s Seth Branham, Caleb won 8-4 but he really dominated the match.”
Branham is the top-ranked 170-pound wrestler in 5A-6.