The Lions entered the final match at 120 pounds down 36-34 needing a win — any win — to finish third in the six-team tournament. Ward opened up a 2-0 lead and eventually lead 5-2, but Josh Ivey kept coming back for Villa Rica. In the final seconds, Ivey was awarded a takedown to tie the match at 6-all and force overtime. In the overtime period, Ward got a takedown, winning the match, the dual at 37-36 and third place overall.
"We needed it. It was very exciting. It kind of took the words away from me," Central coach Marcus Marenda said. "I think Avery did a great job going out on the mat with everything on his shoulders. He wrestled very tough. He kept the action moving the whole time. Ivey is a real good wrestler, they bumped their really good 113-pounder up to wrestle us. They bump their best kid against our best low kid — you can't ask for much more than that. It was a great match."
Even though the Wildcats fell just short of third place, VR coach Kyle Seeley was proud of how his team bounced back after dropping its first dual of the night, 51-30, against Central. Villa Rica went on to defeat Bowdon, 59-28, to get into the third-place match.
"We came out with Central right off the bat and we did not wrestle very well at all," Seeley said. "We came back through the loser's bracket, beat Bowdon — who beat us at home in our quad a couple weeks ago — and came out and fought hard and that's what I was looking for from my team. We came out against Central again and we talked beforehand about fighting more, getting back at them and being more aggressive and we did."
The final match between Ward and Ivey just showed the kind of drive the Wildcats have this season when they go out and put forth their best effort.
"It came down to the very last match. We were up 36-34 and we end up losing, 37-36, to Central here for third place. Josh Ivey wrestled a heck of a match. Those are the types of things that we train for to be able to score two right there at the very end," Seeley said. "To me, I feel like we won. Yeah, it's kind of disappointing that we did lose that dual match, but my boys could not have fought any harder. Couldn't be more proud of them."
Bowdon had a mixed night, defeating Temple, 60-12, before falling to Mt. Zion and then Villa Rica. The Red Devils were coming off a tough tournament from last weekend and are preparing to host a tournament of their own this weekend. But mixed with some injuries and tough matchups, the Red Devils fell just short on Tuesday.
Overall, it was another night where his team was able to go out, compete and gain some experience.
"We got Trevor McCray against [Mt. Zion's] Ashton Robinson, that Trevor needed and I think Ashton needed. It was a good, competitive match. Connor Wigginton had a couple good matches, Saeje [Brown] had a good match earlier. It's just one of those things to get on the mat. We had a long weekend last weekend in a tough tournament," Bowdon coach Craig McWhorter said. "Villa Rica made some changes in their lineup from last time and we just didn't get a good matchup and that hurt us a little bit ... Mt. Zion's got a good team. We tried a few things and they just didn't work out."
Right now Temple is just focused on getting on the mat, getting work in and building its team. The Tigers fill almost every weight class, only having to forfeit four of the 14. Even with bigger numbers in the room, it is still hard to get certain weight classes practice.
"It's all about mat time and getting that experience. It's hard because we don't really get two or three guys in the same weight class to compete in practice. We're really practicing when we come to these events. I've been out recruiting. We're close. Probably a year away, realistically, but I'm proud of the effort," Temple coach Wallace Hall said.
One bright spot for the Tigers was a newcomer, Taylor Martin, who picked up a pin against Central at 195 pounds. Martin represents part of the in-school recruiting the first-year coach is trying to accomplish.
"He's only been here three weeks. He was a late addition, so it was a blessing to have him come out. He played football. He thought about it and then decided he was going to go ahead and give it a try. He's one of our leaders, even though he's only been here a couple weeks. Kids respect him. He comes to practice every day and he's committed to this sport. That's one of those things we really need," Hall said.
Now the teams will turn to the next stage of the preparation for their area traditional tournaments coming up at the beginning of February as the first step to state. For Villa Rica, that means getting back to work and preparing for the Bowdon Invitational this weekend.
Coming off a good, strong finish is something Seeley believes his team can build on.
"This is something we can hang part of our hat on — not the whole thing because we're not done yet. This is something we can show and look and say we are as good as we can be when we want to be. When it comes to it, I feel like our boys fight harder than any other team out there in the state of Georgia. We have Bowdon this weekend that we're going to set up for [today] in the practice room for," Seeley said. "We've got this week and next week guaranteed — and that's it."
By the end of the night, Central was injured and forced to put in some less experienced wrestlers and even forfeit a few weight classes. What a third-place finish showed Marenda's team is that it can come out and wrestle tough and get key wins.
"I think it's a great testament to the kind of fortitude we're trying to give our kids mentally and trying to get them to understand the physical side of this. I'm just really proud of our kids. We had kids stepping up and wrestling out of weight class to avoid forfeits. We've got a bunch of freshmen and first-year wrestlers that have just been willing to go in the arena for us knowing it was going to be very tough," Marenda said.
"This is very redemptive to come out and wrestle back for third place. I'm very proud of that for our kids to come in here with the five seed to come back and take third place, because I think this was a better county duals than last year."