WRESTLING: Johnson shows class in heartbreaking decision

SALEM — The Warren County wrestling team enjoyed perhaps their best state tournament appearance in the programs history, despite a controversial ending in the heavyweight championship match.

Senior Zach Beckner continued to dominate and won his second consecutive state championship, this time breezing through the 126-pound division.

The Wildcats also produced two runner-ups, a third and two fifth place finishers for a school record six all-state performers that was good enough for Warren County's program best fifth-place overall finish.

Despite all of the positives, the Wildcats tournament will likely be remembered most for the injustice for sophomore Nathan Johnson in the heavyweight championship match against Lord Botetourts Josh Turner.

"I don't want the negative ending at 285 to overshadow what an unbelievable team effort the weekend was," Warren County coach Matt Wadas said. "The fifth-place finish was one of the best in school history and putting three into the finals and having everyone one of our seniors end their career with wins was amazing.

As great as the night was, the final match of the night left more than just a bitter taste of local and statewide wrestling fans.

Johnson cruised to the finals and appeared to be poised to obtain his first state championship and the second on the night for the Wildcats before an egregious call by the official with two second left in the match.

Johnson at the time was winning 7-6, but was hit with his fourth stalling call and Turner was awarded two points and the win.

Considering that Johnson was the aggressor the entire match and the final stalling call, as dubious as the earlier calls, made this loss a tough one to swallow.

Throw in a controversial ruling by the head official after a clock malfunction that showed four seconds should have left in the match in the third period, but 10 seconds was instead, and the way Johnson loss is bad memory that soon won't be forgotten.

"I can't say enough about how [Nathan] handled the situation, the poise he was able to keep was amazing - much better than most adults in that situation," Wadas said. "What happened to him was more than a bad call. The series of stall calls, the clock incident and improper procedure by the ref was downright criminal. I really hope the VHSL acts on the situation."

The good news is that Johnson is just a sophomore and has two more years to make his mark.

"This will only make me work harder the next two years," said Johnson, who was consoled by several wrestlers from schools all around the state after the appalling decision. "No one is taking this from me - I wrestled really well.

"Right now I feel terrible, but this will just make me better."

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