Gov. Thomas Johnson High School senior Jonathan Kefauver didn't wrestle the night his team accomplished the unthinkable.
The senior captain won his 220-pound match against Linganore via forfeit, but by the time the stage was set for the final bout of the match between Thomas Johnson first-year wrestler Shan Gabri and Linganore's Chris Brown in the 106-pound weight class, Kefauver barely could sit still.
“That match was just completely crazy. Everybody was screaming,” Kefauver said. “I was excited. Even with not even wrestling, that gave me the biggest adrenaline rush ever.”
And while a team's fate coming down to the final bout of the night would be entertaining and nerve-wracking under nearly any circumstance, this moment was three years in the making.
The Patriots didn't win a dual meet match in 2010. They also lost each of their attempts in 2011. And in its first few tries of 2012, Thomas Johnson fell short. That set the stage for Dec. 19 in a tri-meet against North Carroll and Linganore, where the team's hopes for a breakthrough victory were placed on Gabri.
The Patriots entered the 106-pound bout trailing 37-36 and needed a win by Gabri to break the unwanted streak.
Earlier that night, Thomas Johnson's bus broke down on the way to North Carroll. The players and new coach Peter Daddone, who took over for Mark Gomez after he resigned on Dec. 14, sat in the cold waiting for a new bus to pick them up for roughly half an hour.
“I fell asleep a bunch of times. I'm not sure how long we were there,” said senior captain Jason Broadhurst. “But we gave it our all, even after the bus broke down.”
Despite arriving at the event 90 minutes late, Thomas Johnson remained competitive against Linganore from the start of their match and the belief that the Patriots could actually win crept into the players' minds.
“It kind of sucked, the streak,” said Broadhurst, a four-year varsity wrestler and captain this season. “I guess I got used to losing, which I guess is kind of bad.”
Added Kefauver: “You just kind of hope for the best. You go into every match thinking that you're going to win. We tried to put the streak in the back of our minds.”
After amassing a 12-10 lead, the Patriots fell behind before Broadhurst, Jason Ridgly and Marc Estaban all recorded pins to set the stage for the finale.
“At the end of practice we do a conditioning drill where we run up and down stairs for six minutes,” Daddone said. “And the other day, I was yelling at the team, 'You win, we win. If we're going to win a match, it's going to be tied and it's going to come down to you.'”
Despite a back-and-forth opening two periods, Garbi pulled away in the third to record a 12-2 major decision against Brown and secure the 40-37 victory.
“I had to turn around and tell them to calm down because we still had to shake [Linganore's] hands,” said Daddone, who has been coaching in some capacity or another for 20 years. “There were people on the floor and we had one kid [Devaughn Huntoon] who cried because he didn't ever want to go four years without winning a match. It was a watershed moment for a lot of our seniors.”
The momentum from the win was followed by a fourth-place finish at the FSK Tournament and, more importantly, a renewed belief in what the program, which features a full lineup for the first time in three years, can accomplish. Daddone said there's a newfound sense of pride in the program and the team purchased hoodies, which the wrestlers now wear around the building.
“We all practice harder now because we know we can actually win and go out there and compete against other teams,” Kefauver said.
Daddone, who is in his first year with the Patriots, said that when he took over the head coaching job, he asked the team what they wanted their motto to be. They chose “family.”
“Our goals have become not necessarily to become great wrestlers, but to become great family members,” he said. “I think the win came organically because of the fact that we all care about each other and we've all taken a special interest in helping each other out at various things other than wrestling.”