For the first time, Devin Johnson of the Pickerington High School Central wrestling team carried the outcome of a meet on his shoulders.
With his team leading visiting Pickerington North by a point in a showdown for the OCC-Ohio Division championship Feb. 6, it was up to Johnson and Connor Korban to decide in their 113-pound match whether the Tigers would win the outright title or share it with the Panthers for the second consecutive year.
Johnson scored a takedown with 45 seconds left in the first period and held on to win 2-0, giving Central a 34-31 victory. It was the Tigers' first outright league championship since 2003.
"As the last couple matches went by, the score got closer and I knew it'd come down to me," Johnson said.
"It's the most exciting match I've ever been in in my life. He countered me really well and kept the pressure on. I dug deep and did my best to come out on top."
Korban got close to recording a takedown with 54.5 seconds left in the third period, but he and Johnson drifted out of bounds before Korban could score.
The Tigers went 7-0 in OCC-Ohio duals and the Panthers finished 5-2, third behind runner-up Lancaster (6-1).
Johnson was one of seven winners for Central, which shared the OCC-Cardinal championship with Grove City in 2005 and the OCC-Ohio title with Lancaster in 2011. Aaron Yarger (152) and Dylan McDowell (170) won by pin, and Tyler Hogue (126) and Joseph Terry (132) won by major decision.
Hogue defeated Will Mason 10-2, and Terry beat Jared Ferguson 13-4.
Yarger pinned Tyler McCafferty in 1:32, and McDowell pinned Jeremy Mann in 5:43.
"It feels good," Central coach Jason Allen said. "We've shared (the title before) ... and now we're outright champions again. I like to win everything. I guess you could say I am selfish. It feels good to have this as our own, and it's a good momentum-builder for the postseason."
The Tigers' other wins came from Ryan McElwee, who edged Andrew Hassel 11-9 at 120, and Jordan Maynard, who beat Jaylyn Falls 12-10 at 220.
For North, Cody Notestine pinned Dalton Dunnette in 1:26 at 138, Nick Notestine defeated Jordan Pieczynski 3-0 at 145, Tyler McCafferty pinned Darius Pearson in 5:43 at 160, George Dial beat Billy Edmonds 15-6 at 182 and Wyatt Starkey won by disqualification over John Beaver at 195. Beaver was called for flagrant misconduct with 12.7 seconds left in the third period.
Once trailing 11-0, North took a 31-29 lead when Geno Rollo pinned Arron Morefield in 1:08 at heavyweight. The Tigers got the lead back at 32-31 when 106-pounder Vu Nguyen won by forfeit, setting the stage for Johnson and Korban.
"They're always going to have a good team. It was a battle and they won the close matches," Panthers coach Brad Harris said.
"We won all the matches we were supposed to win, and the tossup matches, they did better. That was the difference."
Teams prepare for sectional
Central might have focused more recently on its Division I sectional tournament than its OCC-Ohio title chase.
An upset loss to Teays Valley on Jan. 22 in the second round of the state team tournament motivated the Tigers, and four days later Central learned it would have a chance at revenge when Teays Valley was assigned to the 11-team sectional Saturday, Feb. 15, at Central.
Seeded first in Region 5-A, the Tigers lost to the fourth-seeded Vikings 42-22.
"We have some redemption in mind," Allen said. "They punched us in the mouth and we didn't respond. It's almost like we responded back with a little slap instead of a punch. We're working in the room on mental toughness from here on out. The room has been much more intense since then."
Also competing in the Central sectional will be Dublin Coffman, Franklin Heights, Gahanna, Logan, Mount Vernon, Newark, Walnut Ridge, Westerville South and Westland.
North will participate in a sectional at Watkins Memorial that also includes Canal Winchester, Delaware, Dresden Tri-Valley, Dublin Scioto, Lancaster, Licking Heights, Reynoldsburg, St. Charles and Zanesville.
"Delaware coming over makes it tougher from a team standpoint," Harris said.
"Top to bottom, they are a tough team, but I think we stand the chance to get a lot of guys out."
The top four placers in each weight class from each sectional -- the others are at Marysville and Upper Arlington -- advance to the district tournament Feb. 21 and 22 at Hilliard Darby.