A.J. Ouellette lifts his opponent to record a takedown.

The emotion and excitement was at an all-time high at Covington High School on Wednesday night as Covington hosted Brookville, Dayton Christian and Versailles in the OHSAA Division III, Region 23 Team Dual Wrestling Finals.

And the excitement lasted from start to finish as a birth at the state finals came down the the final match of the evening.

First, Covington cruised to an impressive 51-14 victory over Versailles in a battle between two young teams.

Connor Ryan started things off with a 3-0 win at 106 pounds, but Versailles responded with wins at 113 and 120 pounds to take a 7-3 lead.

Jarred Ganger got Covington back on track with a 13-1 major decision at 126 pounds and Ryan Ford followed with a 20-4 tech fall at 132 pounds. Lance Miller recorded a pin, but Versailles responded with a Bo Bey victory at 145 pounds.

Covington then won four straight matches, beginning with a 6-2 win by Daniel Jennings at 152. Brandon Magee (160), Ben Miller (170) and A.J. Ouellette (182) then followed with pins to give Covington a comfortable lead.

Kyle Dieringer recorded the final win of the evening for Versailles at 195 as Covington’s Ian Fries (220) and Jordan Wolfe (285) capped the dual against the Tigers with pins.

This set up a thrilling match for Covington against Dayton Christian, who advanced by dismantling Brookville by the score of 68-12.

Ranked as the second best team in the state, Dayton Christian opened the dual with three straight pins at 106, 113 and 120 pounds to take an 18-0 lead.

Covington responded with wins by Jarred Ganger at 126 and Ryan Ford at 132 to cut the deficit to 18-8, which set up a pivotal match at 138 pounds – a match where Covington freshman Lance Miller nearly pulled off an upset before surrendering two controversial back points off of a questionable slam with three seconds left – a turn of events that even had the Versailles contingent who stayed to watch up in arms.

Dayton Christian rode the momentum by picking up pins at 145 and 152 to push its margin to 33-8 with just five matches to go.

“Those three pins to start the match (by Dayton Christian) put us in a big hole and we never completely recovered,” Covington coach Tom Barbee said. “Give Dayton Christian credit. They are a good, strong team all the way through.”

But Covington gave everything it had in an attempt to make a miraculous comeback.

First, sophomore Brandon Magee won an 8-0 major decision at 160 pounds and Ben Miller followed with a 4-3 win at 170 pounds.

A.J. Ouellette picked up a huge pin at 182 pounds and Justin Daniel recorded a forfeit win at 195 pounds to cut the deficit to 33-27 with two matches left.

With the gymnasium erupting on every move, Covington sophomore Ian Fries stuck his opponent at 220 pounds to tie the score at 33-33 to set up a winner-take-all match at 285 pounds.

Unfortunately for Covington, on the other side of the mat was the fourth ranked wrestler in the state at 285, Nate Jackson. And the Dayton Christian wrestler proved that ranking in a big way by recording a pin to end Covington’s hopes of getting to Columbus for the team duals championships.

Still, Barbee couldn’t have been more proud of his Buccaneer team.

“I am really proud of the kids,” Barbee said. “They wrestled a great match. I couldn’t be prouder.”

Even with the loss, it was a great night for Covington wrestling as a young Buccaneer team went toe-to-toe with a Dayton Christian team that fields seven wrestlers ranked top five in the state of Ohio.

And the Buccaneers gave fans one of the most exciting evenings of wrestling in the history of the program.

“This was great for the fans,” said Barbee. “It was exciting, but it is going to give me a heart attack.”

Former Buccaneer state qualifier Brad Hall agreed.

“I’ve never seen this much excitement at a wrestling meet,” said Hall. “This was awesome.”

Awesome. That’s the only way to describe the effort of the Covington Buccaneers.

Ian Fries locks up a huge pin over Dayton Christian at 220 pounds.
Ryan Ford sizes up his opponent against Dayton Christian.