FRANKLIN, Tenn. -- It had been more than 17 years since somebody wearing red and blue with an interest in wrestling had much to crow about in Bradley County.
It had been that long since Cleveland High School had one-upped the Bradley Central Bears.
But Saturday at the Williamson County Agricultural Expo, the Blue Raiders put on a show of dogged determination to win the Division I state championship. The Ag Expo also has bull-riding and steer-wrestling championships, but it is highly unlikely the dirt-floor venue has ever seen such a blood-and-guts battle as that put on by Chattanooga-area wrestling powers Cleveland, Bradley and Soddy-Daisy.
"It was like three heavyweights in the same ring at the same time slugging it out," Cleveland coach Eric Phillips said. "I'd look up and we'd be behind and we'd wrestle our tails off. I'd look up again and we'd still be behind. I've got two words for three teams: 'Great job!'"
Cleveland was the decided underdog. The Blue Raiders got left at home for the state duals after losing to Bradley in the regular season and again in the region semifinals. And they had found no luck against Soddy-Daisy, losing to the Trojans four times.
"Our guys are young and sometimes gullible -- at least when the coaches talked -- and we kept telling them that we weren't going to win this tournament with individual championships but by everybody picking up points where they could and everybody working to get in the medals," Phillips said. "They believed us."
The Blue Raiders brought 13 and placed 11.
Cleveland's champions were the Lopez brothers -- Marvin at 135 and Aaron at 140 -- but the Raiders won the tournament with a tremendous amount of bonus points in the first round and by winning 38 of 43 matches Friday (10 of those in overtime and another 10 in the final period).
Cleveland's previous highest medalist total was six.
Soddy-Daisy put six in the finals and got three champions in Jonah Smith (103), Jacob Stevens (112) and Campbell Lewis (130). It was Lewis's third state title and gives him a shot at becoming a four-time winner next season.
"In most any year you put six in the finals and you're probably going to win. We had a good tournament, but it was as good a fight among three teams as I've ever seen," Trojans coach Steve Henry said. "My hat is off to Cleveland, to Bradley Central and to my guys."
Bradley got championships from Brad Colbaugh (152), Tucker Bolton (215) and Patrick Benson (285).
Bolton, who signed with Appalachian State to play football, finished the year 38-0.
Contact Ward Gossett at email@example.com or 423-886-4765.
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...