It was a situation that some wrestlers only can dream about.
With the OCC-Cardinal Division championship on the line and his team trailing 27-24, Hilliard Darby High School senior Matt Walker knew he had to come through for his teammates.
He defeated Bradley's Jake Stratton by technical fall, 22-6, at 170 pounds in the final match of the league dual Feb. 7 at Hilliard Memorial Middle School, giving the Panthers a 29-27 win.
Darby finished 7-0 in the OCC-Cardinal, capturing its first league title since the 2007-08 season when it won the OCC-Ohio championship. That season marked the last of five consecutive league titles for the Panthers.
Bradley finished second in the OCC-Cardinal at 6-1, followed by Westerville North (5-2), Worthington Kilbourne (4-3), Dublin Jerome (3-4), Westerville South (2-5), Dublin Scioto (1-6) and Westerville Central (0-7).
"It's been four years coming. I've dreamed of (the league title) every year," Walker said. "It was about to happen. It feels great."
The middle school used to be Hilliard High School, and the Darby and Bradley coaches thought it would be a fitting atmosphere for a rivalry match.
"That's how league championships are supposed to be decided," Bradley coach John Riggs said. "The city of Hilliard is very passionate, very supportive of the sport of wrestling. Darby, Bradley, through the entire league season, ended up 6-0 and faced each other. We came back to an original high school here in town for a little history, a little atmosphere."
The win helped the Panthers bounce back from a 49-22 loss to Marysville in the Region 5 final of the Division I state team tournament Feb. 6. The Monarchs advanced to a state quarterfinal, where they lost to eventual state runner-up Massillon Perry 49-24 on Feb. 9 at Ohio State's St. John Arena.
Another key win for the Panthers against Bradley came at 126, where Adam Ruiz defeated Rob McGrath 5-2. McGrath had beaten Ruiz 10-7 on Jan. 30 in a regional semifinal of the state team tournament. Darby won that match 36-22 to advance to the regional final.
Bradley opened a 27-19 lead in the league dual, as Ryan McGrath beat Belal Museitif 12-5 at 132, Chris Wall pinned Josh Norris in 2 minutes, 57 seconds at 138 and Keegan Driscoll defeated Ben Radcliff 5-3 in overtime at 145.
Darby began its comeback when Sean Black beat Luke Hammond 8-3 at 152. However, the Panthers lost a team point after the match for unsportsmanlike conduct and trailed 27-21.
Darby's Zack Donatelli then defeated Jacob Pugh 15-8 at 160, setting the stage for Walker to complete the comeback.
Other winners for the Panthers were Robert Valenti at 106 (pin in 2:52), Sam Valenti at 120 (major decision, 19-7), Zach Garrett at 113 (14-7) and Trevor Parker at 182 (8-3).
Other winners for Bradley were Hunter Kidd at 195 (pin in 1:50), Fraser Smith at 220 (7-4) and Nick Hogenbirk at heavyweight (forfeit).
"This is a huge step," Darby coach Brendan Moody said. "A lot of times people think the first one is the hardest. We've been working hard for five years trying to get back to the top of it. We didn't take the easy route, that's for sure. We had a lot of mess-ups along the way, but somehow our seniors and our captains pulled through. The kids really wanted this."
Darby and Bradley are spending this week preparing for the Division I sectional tournaments Saturday, Feb. 16.
The top four finishers in each weight class in each of the four sectionals advance to the district tournament Feb. 22 and 23 at Darby.
Seeded fifth in the district, Darby will compete in the 10-team sectional at Pickerington North.
Among the other teams at the site are second-seeded Mount Vernon and ninth-seeded Olentangy Liberty.
"It's going to give us a lot of momentum," Walker said of winning the OCC-Cardinal title. "This showed that we can do whatever we want (at) sectional, district and state."
Seeded 11th, Bradley will compete in the 10-team sectional at Watkins Memorial. The Jaguars will be joined at the site by three higher-seeded teams in Thomas Worthington (sixth), Pickerington Central (seventh) and Olentangy Orange (10th).
"The league is your No. 1 goal, but it's never your most important goal," Riggs said. "The most important part of the season is right in front of us: sectional, district and state. There are things to learn from here, but our kids carried six minutes-plus of fight and that one's hard to teach. Our kids did that."
Wildcats place third in OCC-Central
Davidson bounced back from a 40-31 loss to Pickerington Central in the Region 6 final of the Division I state team tournament Feb. 6 to defeat Dublin Coffman 43-19 on Feb. 7 in its OCC-Central finale.
The Wildcats finished 5-2 in the OCC-Central, placing third behind Marysville (7-0) and Thomas (6-1) and ahead of Liberty (3-4), Upper Arlington (3-4), Central Crossing (2-5), Coffman (2-5) and Westland (0-7).
"I knew it was going to be kind of hard on the kids emotionally to come back after a tough loss, but they showed some grit," coach Dominic DiSabato said. "I think they all wanted to go out for the seniors. It was kind of important for everybody. I'm happy with how they went out and wrestled."
Against Coffman, the winners included Alex Desmond at 120 (15-0), Bobby Smith at 126 (15-10), Lee Wilson at 132 (17-1), Nick Lawler at 145 (15-5), Garrett McIlvain at 152 (11-5) and Amir Mansour at 182 (4-2).
Against Central, Davidson built a 19-11 lead, led by a pin by Wilson at 138 and technical fall wins by Smith at 126 (18-3) and Zach Duhl at 132 (15-0). Central, however, scored the next 29 points to take a 40-19 lead.
The Wildcats closed the match with forfeit wins by Quentin Wolfe at 220 and Travis Gusan at heavyweight. Also winning was Trent Gill at 106 (6-2).
Seeded fourth, Davidson will compete in the 10-team sectional at Westland on Saturday, Feb. 16. Among the teams at the site is third-seeded Delaware.