Of all the messages Tony Stephens delivered to his Hephzibah wrestling team, this was the most important: be aggressive.
The Rebels were going to forfeit two matches in the Region 3-AAAA duals final Saturday afternoon, which would put them in a 12-point hole before the bout even started.
"We needed pins," Stephens said.
The Rebels responded with four pins in a 51-30 win over host Cross Creek, the team's first region duals title under Stephens, who is in his sixth year coaching the team. The Rebels will compete at next week's state duals meet in Macon, Ga., along with Westside, which earned the school's first state duals bid by edging Cross Creek 42-36 in the second-place bout.
Beginning with Joe Whigam's second-period pin at 160 pounds, the Rebels earned four consecutive pins in contested matches. Toss in forfeit wins by their two top wrestlers, Corey Campbell and Bobby Liggins, and the Rebels had a 30-point lead heading into the final four matches.
The match turned, Stephens said, when Hephzibah freshman Derwin Butler earned a quick pin at 215 pounds, and 125-pounder Terrance Everette won a decision over Alex Tavarez, 10-6. Everette's win was the only one of the 13 bouts not decided by pin or forfeit.
Cross Creek won the first two bouts, but Whigam's pin seemed to turn things, especially because he spent most of the first period on his back, wiggling out of opponent Chase Clayton's clutches.
"That was a first-year wrestler right there giving it his all. ... he really stepped up," said Campbell, who is the team's captain.
Said Stephens, "He just didn't give up."
Westside surprised Cross Creek in the second-place bout. It sealed the match in the second-to-last bout when freshman Jacob Weeks pinned his opponent in the final period, sending some of his celebrating teammates dancing into the gym's lobby.
Assistant coach Kevin Waters could only chuckle when he hollered these instructions: "Act like you've been there before, even though you haven't."
The Patriots, who fell to Hephzibah in the semifinals, defeated Lakeside and Cross Creek in the afternoon to earn the other state bid.
Reach Matt Middleton at (706) 823-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.