Early on against Clinton, it looked as if the Bettendorf wrestling team had fallen into a hole it might not get out of.
But on the Bulldogs' Senior Night, Bettendorf picked up big wins from seniors TJ Cole and Mason Morris to storm back and defeat the River Kings, 48-24, in both teams' final Mississippi Athletic Conference dual of the season.
Starting at 152 pounds, Clinton got a big victory from Ben Chapman, who was trailing most of his match against Bettendorf's Joe Tyson, before pulling out a cradle pin at the 4 minute, 40 seconds mark. The River Kings' Clem Butler (170), Ethan Barry (195) and Dawson Troxel (220) all added pins of their own for the visitors in the next few matches.
Despite a decision from Voyen Adamson (160) and a major decision victory from Stephen Bonin, the hosts found themselves trailing 24-7.
"We believe in each other, and we push each other in practice every day," Morris said. "Even when we were down, we knew we had a chance."
Bulldogs freshman Griffin Liddle, who looks more dangerous every time out, pinned Elijah Robinson at 285 pounds in 24 seconds to get the rally going. Liddle improved to 29-12 on the season with the victory. Jacob Faber got the forfeit win at 106 pounds for Bettendorf to cut Clinton's lead to 24-19.
Things took off from there for Bettendorf (8-1 MAC, 15-5 overall) as Kurtis Holmes (113) and Cole (126) each pinned their opponents and Logan Adamson (120) added a technical fall to push the Bulldogs to the brink of victory with a 36-24 lead. Rylan Hughbanks recorded a hard-fought 9-6 win over Darrin Bethard to clinch the victory with a 39-24 edge with two matches remaining.
Will Jefferson got a pin for the Dogs in 2:57 at 138 pounds before the marquee match-up of the night between Morris and Clinton's Jess Chapman, who came into the match with a 22-6 record.
It was the first meeting of the season between Morris and Chapman, and it did not disappoint. Morris was able to record four takedowns and a two-point near fall in the match that went the distance, ending in a 11-6 victory for the senior. It also completed Bulldogs' eight-victory streak to end the dual.
"I just had to keep moving my hands and feet and getting my shots in," Morris said of the keys to his victory. "I tried to get some turns on top, but (Chapman) was tough. Some of the stuff I was trying to get to was not working. But it's nice to get a win on Senior Night."
The next step is the MAC Tournament on Saturday and then the Class 3A district team duals for the Bulldogs, who appear to be getting stronger as the season has gone on.
"It's been a good group of seniors, and they are a pretty tight-knit group and they have been through a lot," Bettendorf coach Dan Knight said. "Off the mat, they are good kids, too, which is always nice. Any time you have young kids and they continue to get better, it's exciting. When they start to believe and have confidence, you can do some things."
As for the River Kings (6-3 MAC, 9-5 overall), the match might have turned out differently as Clinton was missing two key starters: Lane Smalley (126) and Isaac Larkin (138). Larkin has a record of 24-4 this season. But River Kings coach Eric Lueders said his team will keep working to end the season strong.
"You want to wrestle in atmospheres like this when high school matches are exciting," Lueders said. "We knew we needed to come out and try and get as many points as we could in our upper weights and try to hang on, and it didn't work. We tried, and we worked hard, and that's the way it goes."