MAHOMET – After putting his title-round opponent on his back, Brandon Ward spent plenty of his postmatch recovery time in a prone position, too.
"I was pretty exhausted," the Champaign Central wrestler said after repeating as 171-pound champion of the Bulldog Invitational on Saturday. "I didn't think I'd be able to hold on til they (called) thepin."
It likely took every ounce of Ward's considerable strength to secure a comeback victory against top-seeded Andrew Brewer of Mahomet-Seymour.
With Brewer taking the fight hard to Ward from the opening whistle, the Bulldog junior bolted to a 4-1 lead before the match was a minute old.
"I like to be the aggressor," Brewer said. "That's when I'm at my best is when I'm on offense."
But when Brewer had Ward on the mat – and was maneuvering for a pin – the Maroons sophomore saw the opening he needed and pulled off a reversal with an explosive move.
"Sometimes you take a chance of getting behind even more, but sometimes you've got to take a chance," Ward said. "It was a big chance. I was on my back when I did it, but I had to try something."
When it worked, Ward then needed to summon everything he had to finish the deal. With Brewer fighting mightily to extend the match, Ward ultimately ended it at 1 minute, 26 seconds.
"Brandon was really working hard to get that pin because I think he knew, 'Here's my chance,' " Central coach Jeff Scott said. "But he's that kind of kid where he's always got a chance to win because he can pin about anybody."
It was a startlingly swift ending to a much-anticipated duel between two of the state's best. Brewer (23-4), who competed at 160 pounds last season, is rated fifth in the state at 171 by illinoismatmen.com. Ward (27-0) is an honorable mention choice in that same ranking.
And although this was their first meeting, it likely won't be the last. The Bulldogs will visit Central's Combes Gym on Thursday for a dual meet. The teams also are in the same regional/sectional complex.
"Sometimes you think, well, now who's got more motivation?" Scott said. "And it's probably Andrew. But we'll make sure Brandon knows it's not done, either."
When this 15-team meet was done, the Bulldogs trailed only Lincoln-Way Central in the standings. With two champions, four finalists and seven semifinalists, M-S scored 187 points. Lincoln Way-Central racked up 256.
"We didn't start out real well, but we came back," Bulldogs coach Rob Ledin said. "We scored the points we needed to in the wrestlebacks. We put ourselves in contention for it, but Lincoln-Way is a great team."
Jared Ernst (125) and Lyle Shallenberger (130) earned M-S' titles. The top-seeded Ernst (25-6) never trailed en route to a 7-4 victory against Central's Aryn Gilenson in the final. A year after competing at 130 – and qualifying for state – the Bulldog junior is at a weight Ledin believes suits him best.
"I think it's paying off great," Ernst said. "I feel strong. I feel a little bit quicker. I'm fat at 130."
Meanwhile, Shallenberger (25-4) has moved up one weight this season in a switch with Ernst. Meeting top-seeded Adam Heimer of Lincoln-Way Central in the final, the second-seeded Bulldog used two reversals to score a 4-3 victory and hand Heimer his first loss of the season.
After two runner-up finishes in this meet, Shallenberger became a Bulldog Invitational champion in his final try.
"It means quite a bit," he said. "It's my senior year, and I wanted to come out with a bang."
Central, which finished fourth, advanced four wrestlers to the finals and seven to the semis. Evan Ellsworth, top-seeded at 160, was the Maroons' other champion. Clinging to a 1-0 lead in the third period in the finals, the junior (23-4) scored a late near-fall to clinch a 4-0 win against Jameel High of Kankakee Bishop McNamara.
"It's kind of scary when it's that close," Ellsworth said, "but the way things were going I was pretty sure I was still going to get the win. "
Unity, which finished 14th, was led by 119 runner-up Dustinn Brown.
Mike Nix (130) placed first for St. Joseph-Ogden to help the Spartans earn sixth place in the 17-team Urbana Invitational.
Dakota Tiger (189) and Hai Bui (103) were second for Centennial. The Chargers finished in ninth place.
Urbana's Zach Kulczycki (145) earned first place. The Tigers were 11th overall.
Westville finished 15th, and St. Thomas More placed 17th.
Guy Kirby (135), Colin Kirkpatrick (145) and Colten Unzicker (160) earned first-place finishes for Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley to help the Falcons take second place at the 16-team George Girardi Invitational.
Danville's Ryan Donnelly placed second. The Vikings finished 11th.
Rantoul finished 16th.
Noah Browne (125) and Kyle Dooley (152) each had three-win days for Monticello, but the Sages dropped two of three duals.
Monticello fell to Murphysboro 48-28 and to Vandalia 55-14.
The Sages' win came against Alton, 42-39.
Cory Matlock (112), Payton Tucker (125), Tyler Wilfley (130) and Dan Monical (135) recorded three-win days to help lead LeRoy to a sweep. The Panthers defeated Argenta-Oreana 31-30 on the sixth-tiebreaker criteria, Clinton 51-18 and Cumberland 50-22.
Steven Rogers (heavyweight) had a pin for the Bombers, and Dan Norris (heavyweight) earned a pin for the Maroons.