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Smith, Comer win wrestling titles

West Davidson's Justin Smith (top) and Central Davidson's Jake Comer (bottom) wrestle during the 2-A state championship match at the Greensboro Coliseum on Saturday. Smith (160 pounds) and Comer (220) won their respective weight classes. (Photo by Donnie Roberts/The Dispatch)

GREENSBORO | Finally, Wes Walser can go home from the wrestling state championships with a smile on his face.

The West Davidson wrestling coach, who has had ties to the school’s program since its inception, hugged Justin Smith with all his might Saturday after Smith scored a 6-0 decision over Madison’s Brannan Jernigan for the 160-pound state title at the Greensboro Coliseum.

Smith, who finished third in last week’s 2-A regional meet, capped off a brilliant weekend with a methodical victory in the finals. He got two points for a takedown right as the first period ended, then picked up two more points for a reversal early in the third. He nearly pinned Jernigan late in the third, but was glad to settle for a decision.

Neither wrestler was willing to make a mistake with the stakes at their highest, and the match official encouraged both wrestlers throughout the first period to pick up the action. Even when Smith got the takedown to end the first, he couldn’t breathe easy.

“Wrestling’s taught me not to give up,” he said. “I didn’t give up, kept trying to get as many points as I could.”

Then, when he extended the lead with the two insurance points early in the third, Smith had to make a tactical decision: keep pressing, or play it safe and avoid getting pinned. “I just wanted to get on his hips, and ride him out,” he explained.

For Walser, it was a sweet ending. He had total faith in Smith, who finished the season with a 30-3 record. “He finished third in the region, but he didn’t wrestle like Justin Smith can wrestle,” Walser said. “We told him to come in and go for six minutes.

“He’s as strong and quick and athletic as anybody we have here, he’s just got to go six minutes. He’s not gonna go pin people, that’s not his style.”

And, it ended a 20-plus year run that has seen several top wrestlers leave Tyro oh-so-close to a state championship, only to come up emptyhanded. “It’s heartbreaking, it really is,” Walser said. “We’ve had four runnersup. This thing started in 1990, when I was a freshman in high school. A guy off my team (Tim Wood) actually finished runnerup twice.

“We’ve had Shawn Swing, Michael McLemore. But we’ve never had one to finish it up like this.”

A half-hour later, Central Davidson’s Jake Comer took to the mat trying to cap off a remarkable career in a Spartan singlet. Like Smith, he’s not a dazzling, flashy wrestler that scores quick pins; he relies on patience, and overpowering his opponents. That tactic paid off as he ground his way to a 3-2 victory in double overtime over Joseph Sculthorpe of Topsail for the 220-pound state title.

Neither wrestler scored in the first period, but Sculthorpe had to be attended to by trainers for a cut over his left eye. That was indicative of how grueling the match was, even if the scoreboard didn’t reflect it. Sculthorpe started the second period on bottom, and managed an escape to take a 1-0 lead. That’s where it stood until a restart midway through the third period, when Comer started on bottom. He nearly got a reversal, but had to settle for an escape midway through the third that forced overtime.

Central coach Jay Lineberry, knowing he didn’t want Comer to go home one point short of a state title, was screaming encouragement to his senior star as he tried to earn a point to stay alive. “I heard coach yelling,” Comer said, chuckling while trying to regain his breath. “There was a little bit of time I had to stand up on.

“I don’t know how, but somehow I got up and everything worked out.”

Indeed. Still trying to avoid any costly mistakes, neither wrestler scored in the first overtime period. Then, the second overtime was divided into two 30-second increments. Sculthorpe was penalized a point for stalling, then Comer managed another escape in the first 30-second period. Down two points, Sculthorpe managed an escape for one point with 11 seconds left, but could not take Comer down for the win.

Even though the scoreboard only showed five points, Comer was visibly spent after the match. “That was rough,” he said. “We both wrestle the same way.

“I’m more of a defensive wrestler to begin with, so I’m gonna hit more of the stuff up high instead of taking shots … that way, later on in the match, it’s up to me who wins, not him.”

That plan worked to perfection Saturday, and Comer walked away with a state championship.

Jason Queen can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 220 or