With one match remaining in the 2A Region 1 wrestling tournament, Paonia trailed Meeker, 200-198. Both the heavyweight and team titles hung in the balance when No. 1 seed Trevor Smith stepped on the mat to face Meeker's No. 2 seed, Tyler Ilgen. After three rounds, the score was tied, 2-2 -- two escapes each. After an overtime and sudden victory rounds, it was still 2-2. Smith couldn't take Ilgen down, and Ilgen couldn't put Smith on his back. Smith chose the down position to start the round, and after five seconds he scored an escape.
The four points awarded gave Paonia a one-point win over Meeker, the regional title and the trophy.
This is the third regional title for Smith, and his fourth state qualification. "I'm ready for a good run at the end," said Smith, who is seeded third at state.
"At that heavyweight level you've just got to find a way to win," said Eagles head coach Andy Pipher. Smith stuck to the game plan and did just that.
Paonia was ranked third at regionals. "Pipher said he told his team not to expect to win the team title, but if they could get enough guys to state, they might have a shot there. "You know, they put it together and they made it happen," said Pipher.
Paonia will send eight into state competition. Sophomore Sackett Chesnik (138) and junior Jaden Miller (182) were runners-up. Winning their third-place championship matches were freshman Gray Neal (132) and junior Clay Campbell (145). Senior Gabe Ferguson will make his first state appearance at 120 pounds.
Zeb Etter and senior Eli Etter both claimed a regional title. The brothers are "pretty competitive," said Eli, who wrestles at 126 pounds. But when asked who's the better wrestler, "I think Eli is," said Zeb, who wrestles at 106.
Heading into regionals, "I thought he had better chances than me, to tell you the truth," said Eli, who was particularly impressed with how his brother handled Hotchkiss opponent Landen Mayberry in the semis.
Zeb said he didn't think at the start of the season he'd be a regional champion. But after cutting down from 113 pounds to 106 after Christmas, his outlook improved.
He wanted to cut weight before Christmas, but it was too much, too fast, said Pipher. "He took some lumps at 113." Once he cut down, his record improved.
"They had a great day," said Pipher of the Etters. "They've just been improving all year. They're hard-nosed, hard working kids and they just find a way to win when it counts."
Eli has wrestled since he was 9, and Zeb started in seventh grade. While they fully support each other, they're glad they don't wrestle at the same weight. "It'd be tough having to wrestle each other off," said Eli.
They also have two younger brothers wrestling in peewees.
Grey Neal's only tournament loss was a decision against No. 1 ranked Colton Hall of Hotchkiss. Even though it was his third loss to Hall this year, Neal said he wants the chance to wrestle him again at state. Neal wrestled in middle school, and finished third at state as an eighth grader. The son of a state champion, he remembers older brother Ty Coats "beating Nicky Aragon" in 2014 to win one of five state titles for Paonia. That win has fueled his desire to win his own state title. "Trying to keep up the tradition," said Neal.
Pipher said he told his team at the start of the season that only two tournaments really count: regional and state.
The team will face tough competition at state from top-ranked Rocky Ford, Meeker, Cedaredge and Hotchkiss.
"The kids have improved all season," said Pipher. If they can improve this week, "They'll have a good tournament."
If Rocky Ford can be beat, "Anything could happen," said Pipher. "They found a way to win at regionals; we'll see what happens at the state tournament."