CARTERSVILLE — Meet the new state champions, same as the old state champions. For the second consecutive year and third time in four seasons, Tift County’s Blue Devils won the state middle school duals.
Over the course of the tournament, held at Woodland, the Devils defeated Cass, 66-18, Trion, 58-32, Commerce, 48-42 and, in the championship, they edged Social Circle, 45-42.
Tift carried a 19-0 record into the state meet. They had won on their own turf in 2022.
The first close dual was between Tiift and No. 4 seed Commerce in the semifinals. Commerce had a solid lineup and had looked strong in earlier rounds. It was a back-and-forth dual, with the Blue Devils winning some key matches. Rowdy Garren had one of those victories in the 48-42 final score.
Tift became the first middle school to go back-to-back in winning championships, according to coaches. After watching host Woodland fall to Social Circle, it was time for the finals.
Blue Devils’ staff knew they had a battle and it lasted from first match to last. For the first time all tournament, they were down in the back half of the bout. Social Circle led 39-28 and Tift needed pins badly.
Starting with a pinfall by three-year wrestler Dezmond McWotter, the momentum swung back to the Blue Devils. Now 39-34 Social Circle, Keegan Goodman stepped onto the mat. Tift’s captain has been undefeated in 2022-23 and he kept that streak alive with another pin, tying the score.
Brayden Harris, also a captain, stepped up big with a third pin. Tift was ahead 45-39 and not letting go. Lochlen Newell was in the final match of the night. He had overcome a back injury during the season and barely had been cleared to wrestle. Social Circle won on points, but by keeping his shoulders off the mat, he preserved the win. The three points Social Circle earned in the decision kept the final, 45-42.
Tift County opened with Cass, whom coaches said had solid wrestlers. With the 66-18 dual win in the books, they next faced Trion. The Bulldogs were solid, but no match for the defending state champions.
High school wrestlers joined the cheering section in Cartersville. Earlier in the day, the Devils had wrestled a state sectional at Lassiter.
Tift Middle wrestling wants to thank its sponsors for the successful season: Tift Tourism, Kincaid Agency, Abels Tacos, Patrick Farms, Jimmy John’s, Mike West, Rigdon Laundry, Locs By Whit, Tri-W Pools, Southern Carpet Care, RAC Pest Control, Marco’s Big Jakes BBQ, Walmart and the administration of both Northeast Middle and Eighth Street Middle.