Benton's Zach Wilson defeated Ty Taylor of Princeton 3-2 to take the 140-pound Class A wrestling state championship in Champaign Saturday night.
Although it was a successful Saturday for Southern Illinois wrestlers, Wilson was the only area state champion. He is also the first state champion in Benton High School history.
"This is one of the greatest feelings in the world," Wilson said. "I've been working for this my entire life."
Going into the final period, Wilson opted to take the down position.
"We wanted to score first," said Benton coach, and Zach's father, Neil Wilson. "Zach got an escape in about eight seconds."
The match was tied at 1 with 20 seconds remaining when Wilson took down the previously undefeated Taylor for the decisive points.
"I was really hoping not to go into overtime," Wilson said. "I got a takedown at the edge of the mat. He escaped with about 15 seconds left. I ended up just kind of waiting it out."
And, how long did those final 15 seconds last?
"It was the longest ever," Wilson said.
But the payoff came when the buzzer finally sounded.
"It was joy, excitement, surprise, shock, every emotion at the same time," he said.
It was also a difficult final 20 seconds for Neil Wilson, now the coach and father of a state champion.
"I'm just getting my nerves back right now," the elder Wilson said about an hour after the championship. "I tried to separate it (father and coach), but you can't."
The younger Wilson also exacted a measure of revenge this year. He finished fourth last year, losing to Taylor and Lucas Graves of St. Joseph-Ogden. Wilson defeated Graves to get to the title match.
Taylor was 45-0 going into the state championship match.
"The kid is an excellent wrestler," Neil Wilson said. "He was ranked No. 1 all year and Zach was ranked No. 2. I think a lot of people overlooked Zach."
Zach also noted the state championship is also a bit sweeter when your dad is sitting at the edge of the mat.
"That was really good," he said. "He's been coaching me all my life. He got me into wrestling. He's been through it all. It was really important to me."
Now that Wilson's prep career is over, he hopes to wrestle in college. Wilson said he is looking at several Division III schools.
Herrin's Jake Holliday also advanced to the championship match, losing 2-0 to Wilmington's John VanDuyne. VanDuyne scored on a reversal with about a minute remaining in the third period.
"It's a heartbreaker, but someone has to win and someone has to lose," Holliday said. "I'll take this if it makes me a better wrestler."
Holliday said he was unable to rally after the reversal.
"He pretty well held me down," he said.
This was Holliday's fourth trip to the state championships. He finished fourth as a sophomore and third as a junior. Like Wilson, Holliday plans to wrestle in college.
"I'll just use this as a momentum builder and work off that," he said. "It's only going to push me harder."
In addition, several Southern Illinois wrestlers took home third-place medals.
Murphysboro's Jake Miller, who won the 103-pound title last year, placed third at 119.
After losing to Steve Ferman of Illini Bluffs in the semifinal match, Miller rallied to take a 9-6 win over Tolono Unity's Dustinn Brown in the third-place match.
Murphysboro teammate Shea Baker also claimed a third-place medal at 160 pounds. Baker was defeated 5-2 in the semifinal match by Jared Staver of Lena-Winslow. He beat William Jenkins of Walther-Lutheran by the same tally in the third-place match.
West Frankfort's John Jones was the final Southern Illinoisan to medal, taking third in the 215-pound class. Jones dropped the semifinal match to Kankakee McNamara's Mario Zinanni. He scored a 9-4 win over Michael Sojka of Winnebago in the third-place match.
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