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State Wrestling: EBF's Spurgeon, Fairfield's McCabe advance to state finals

Feb. 16—DES MOINES — Right from the opening period on Friday, it appeared things were going to be much different between Davis County junior Emmitt Newton and Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont freshman Gage Spurgeon.

In the end, the final score was different. The final result, however, was a familiar one in the newly-formed rivalry between two of the best wrestlers in the South Central Conference.

In his fourth meeting of the season with Newton, Spurgeon faced his biggest deficit against the Mustangs' three-time state wrestling medalist. After scoring just five points in three previous meetings this season against the EBF freshman, Newton attacked early scoring a first-period takedown and a second-period reversal to open a 4-0 lead midway through the 120-pound Class 2A semifinal at the Iowa High School State Wrestling Tournament.

Spurgeon refused to deviate from his game plan. The freshman showed the mental and physical poise of a senior on the mat, working his way to a reversal and a cradle for a nearfall that put five straight points on the board.

Two minutes later, Spurgeon had his 37th win in 38 matches this season, avenging the only loss he's suffered twice over earning a 6-4 decision on Friday morning at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. The EBF freshman officially wins the season series with Newton, 3-1, and will compete on Saturday night against West Lyon senior Ryan Bahnson for in the 120-pound Class 2A state final.

"I just had to wrestle smart and not get out of position," Spurgeon said. "I didn't freak out. I stayed calm and focused on what I needed to do."

For Newton and Spurgeon, Friday's state semifinal felt like a wide-open battle. In their previous three meetings this year, Newton had scored the only takedown in the 24 minutes of action on the mat over the previous three matches with the other seven combined points scored on escapes including match-winning escapes by Spurgeon to secure 2-1 overtime wins in the 120-pound South Central Conference and 2A, District 12 title matches.

"I knew I had to try to get to my offense and try to open up more," Newton said. "I couldn't try to keep it a 1-0 match. I had to go after him."

Newton was finally able to complete his second takedown of Spurgeon, scoring the first two points of the match after nearly a minute of battling for the position. Starting the second period on the bottom, Newton reversed Pumphrey in just 43 seconds.

Needing a response, Pumphrey found one by getting a hold of Newton's legs. Using that control to get two points back, Spurgeon kept control locking Newton up in a cradle to nearly score a fall with 24 seconds left in the second, taking a 5-4 lead into the final period.

"Once I got that reversal, his head was just right there near my head," Spurgeon said. "I just had to cradle him up. I've worked on the things that he does well and practiced to counter it.

"I've known Gage for awhile. I know how good a wrestler he is," Newton added. "It's disappointing. I know I had a chance to get to the state finals. I just got caught."

Spurgeon was the only EBF wrestler to score a win on day three of the Iowa High School State Wrestling Tournament. Landen Davis lost an 8-1 decision to top-ranked Union, LaPorte City junior Jace Hedeman in the 126-pound 2A state semifinals while freshman Gage Pumphrey (106) and senior Blake Jager (190) had their seasons end in the 'blood round' with fourth-round consolation losses on Friday.

"My heart just broke for Blake Jager," EBF head wrestling coach Dimitri Boyer said. "He deserved to be here. He's the leader of all these crazy freshmen that we have on this team. There are a lot of highs, but that one really crushes me.

"I know Gage has already said he's going to try to win that state championship match for Blake. They're all competitors. They're one big family. They're so close."

Fairfield will also have a pair of wrestlers that will be on the podium by the end of the state tournament. Trojan sophomore Cael McCabe will be joining Spurgeon in Saturday night's championship session of the state tournament after earning an 8-3 win over Nevada freshman Urijah Carter in the 106-pound 2A semifinals, securing a date with undefeated top-ranked Mount Vernon senior Klayten Perreault in the state championship match.

"This is every kid's dream that wrestles," McCabe said. "I'm glad to be here. I'm glad I've made it this far in the tournament. I've just been working hard, keeping my head down and just wrestling."

According to Fairfield head wrestling coach Steve Williams, a former teammate of McCabe's late father, Shae, the Trojan sophomore has been preparing for this moment from a very early age.

"Cael's dad might have thrown a singlet on him instead of a diaper," Williams joked. "He's been around this sport for a long time and had a lot of success. We've always known he had this potential within him. He proved it this year. He wrestled some tough matches. We bumped him up in weight in a few different tournaments. That's what it takes to get those tough matches to prepare you for this stage."

Fairfield, like EBF, will have a pair of state medalists this season. Cason Miller, who missed half of the season recovering from an ankle injury suffered during this past football season, earned a thrilling 3-1 win in overtime over Burlington-Notre Dame junior Blake Wilson avenging a 5-4 district final loss six days earlier to clinch a place on the podium before pinning Algona sophomore Taevyn Zinnell in a 157-pound fifth-round consolation match.

"I guess a week after my ankle surgery, I told my mom I was going to be up at 'The Well' come February," Miller said. "I must have had it in my mind even at that point that I was going to get back here. I haven't wrestled my best the last two years I've been up here. It shows all the hard work I've put in to battle back through the injuries has been worth it."

Ottumwa will also have a pair of state medalists as Ashton Grace and Braylon Griffiths wrestled their way to a pair of Class 3A consolation-round wins on Friday. Grace overcame first-period takedowns scored by Dubuque Hempstead freshman Landon Gottschalk and Iowa City High junior Kendall Kurtz, winning 11-2 in the 113-pound 'blood round' over Gottschalk before earning a 6-2 decision over Kurtz to clinch a top-six state finish.

"My coaches have talked about the guys coming hard after me. I just had to stay patient and set up my stuff for later in the match," Grace said. "I trust my coaches and I'm trusting them to guide me throughout the tournament. It's been working out great."

Griffiths, meanwhile, easily clinched a place on the podium at 150 pounds with an 11-2 major decision over Ames junior Cole Martin. Clinching a top-six finish, however, was much tougher as the Ottumwa senior erased a 3-0 second-period deficit and a 5-3 deficit in the final minute of the match, scoring a winning takedown with 24 seconds left to earn a 7-5 win over Johnston junior Caden Leonard.

"You just have to keep wrestling no matter what," Griffiths said. "We work on those situations all the time in the wrestling room. We go through so many drills where we're down three or five points. We work on scoring quickly, but not leaving yourself wide open to be countered.

"It's crucial to keep your poise and keep wrestling for position."

— Scott Jackson can be reached at sjackson@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.