In each’s junior season, Dalton’s Sidney Wheeler and Murray County’s Clay Thornbury hadn’t faced until Saturday.
The matchup had drama, both in competitiveness and blood.
Wheeler won the 182-pound weight class championship match in the Murray Invitational, which included nine teams and 100 wrestlers competing in the 13-class, traditionals-style event. Of the three local schools — Coahulla Creek was the third — the Indians finished fourth place, best in team scores, with 113 points.
Gordon Lee won the event with 291 points, followed by Calhoun (228) and Ringgold (148). Ridgeland (83.5) finished fifth, with Dalton (78), Gordon Central (50), Coahulla Creek (33) and Coosa (27) rounding out the rest of the field.
The matchup between Wheeler and Thornbury was the only championship meeting from wrestlers within the Whitfield-Murray area and the only one resulting in a local wrestler winning his class.
Wheeler won 11-8 after Thornbury led 1-0 after the first period and 5-4 after the second. Wheeler was successful three times in the third period when he did a shoot and grabbed Thornbury’s legs, something he wasn’t able to do earlier.
“Clay is hard to score on,” Dalton coach Michael Keefe said. “It’s real hard for everyone to wrestle him. And Sidney has always has a tough time with him.”
With around 10 seconds left, Wheeler got hit close to the left eye. He said he and Thornbury collided, and it left a bloody gash right above the eyebrow. The match was stopped for a few minutes, and for the final seconds Wheeler wrestled with his left eye completely covered.
“I could only see out of my right eye,” Wheeler said.
Thornbury hadn’t faced the defending state champion yet this season due to wrestling at 195 at times. In the prior two years, Wheeler said he captured a close decision victory and one by pinfall.
“It’s always been a battle,” Clay Thornbury said. “We’ll have one more next year probably. ... He got some shots on me. That’s what made the match. I was winning and then got behind.”
Despite the loss, Clay Thornbury showed this may be his breakout season.
With the Area 3-2A duals just a couple weeks away, he defeated Gordon Lee’s Shane Farmer, a two-time placer at state, in the semifinals, setting the tone for area.
“Clay beat a very good wrestler in the semifinals,” coach Thornbury said. “Sidney is awesome. I’ve liked watching Sidney for a while. But for both of them, and they both wrestled hard, it’s about what they do tomorrow.
“If one of them goes home and doesn’t work hard and doesn’t prepare for the state tournament, even if he won this match, he’s still the loser in the long run.”
Other local placers were: Murray County’s Anibal Reymundo (106, fourth), Domingo Bautista (113, second), Austin McCall (106, fourth), Jacob Ramos (126, fourth), Kevin Chavez (170, fourth), Seth Gilbert (220, fourth), Allen Roberts (285, third) and Justin Davis (285, fourth); Dalton’s Dylan Carlile (120, second), Jose Garcia (132, fourth) and Werner Braun (195, third); and Coahulla Creek’s Jose Quintero (152, fourth).