Denver Justin Iacovetto tried to stroll through the wrestler's exit hall in the bowels of Denver's Pepsi Center, still dazed from the victory in his Friday night state championship semifinal and hoping to catch his breath. But every Western Slope grappler or coach on hand that has seen Soroco High School's 112-pound junior wrestle in the last three years had a nod, handshake or hug to offer.
This one was a long time coming.
Iacovetto defeated Wiggins freshman Buddy Watson, 3-1, in his semifinal, moving to 26-0 on the season and into tonight's championship final.
"I'm pretty stoked - especially after last year being a big disappointment," Iacovetto said of his 2007 third-place finish.
He was one of two Rams to advance to a state title bout.
After a tough come-from-behind quarterfinal win against Dolores Huerta's Alonso Rodriguez, Soroco senior Dennis Morgan advanced to the semis to face Eads sophomore Garrett Smith. Morgan led the semifinal from the start, controlled the tempo throughout and scored a pair of takedowns for a 4-0 win.
"He was pretty tough," Morgan said of Smith. "But nothing I haven't seen before."
Fellow Soroco senior Levi Gonzales could not keep up the momentum from a draining overtime quarterfinal, falling to a fast and furious Brett Brunner, a Dolores junior, in the 125-pound semis. Brunner pinned Gonzales in 1:11.
"I'm good with the fireman's, so in the tie up he tried to shoot, I sprawled, put him in a front headlock and shucked him by to a near-side cradle," Brunner explained.
Earlier in the day, before Friday's quarterfinal round, Soroco assistant coach Jay Whaley reminded Gonzales that every second counts.
"I told him you've got 360 seconds of your life to make the best of all of them," Whaley said.
Whaley would've never guessed just how important every single second - down to the 360th - was in Gonzales quarterfinal, earlier Friday against Wiggins sophomore Dillon McCombs.
In the second period, McCombs contorted Gonzales in a headlock, jumping ahead 7-1. Gonzales tied it up 7-7, but McCombs took a 9-7 lead with 18 seconds to go. Locked together with 10 seconds to go and Soroco coaches screaming, "Break apart," Gonzales got the key takedown to tie as the clock expired.
In overtime, Gonzales wasted no seconds getting an immediate takedown and the 11-9 win - his fourth overtime win of the year.
"All I remember is I got up in overtime, all I had to do was the same thing, stay away from the headlock and I could hear (Soroco assistant coach Travis Bruggink) telling me to go for an outsides single," he said. "People kept telling me, they knew it was in me."
"Way to leave it all on the mat," Soroco head coach Doug Gates told an exhausted Gonzales.
Tigers fight tough
Ty Zabel doesn't like to scratch down scores in the book at the state championships - he gets too caught up in the action. Coaching a pair of junior wrestlers looking to advance to their first state championship finals can be a nerve-racking endeavor.
Especially with matches as close as Mitch Doolin's 145-pound championship semifinal Friday against Paonia's Justin Smith.
Doolin took a 4-2 lead in the second only to have Smith answer and move ahead, 5-4.
"I knew if I could defend his move I could hang with him and keep it close," Smith said.
As the final minute ticked away, Smith held tight to Doolin's leg, ending the Hayden wrestler's hopes for an escape, a tying point, and a trip to tonight's championship final.
Coy Letlow also dropped his championship semifinal match, a 189-pound contest with Burlington's Mike Satterly. Letlow scored a takedown in the second to turn it into a close 4-3 bout, but couldn't keep Satterly's persistent pressure off in the third and fell, 11-5.
"That was a tough kid from Burlington," Zabel said, looking ahead to today's consolation semifinals. "I'm proud of both of them - they'll wrestle back."
Earlier in the day, Doolin slammed Holyoke's Luke Garrett for a big takedown to go up 8-4 in his quarterfinal, and as Garrett tired, Doolin kept up the pressure for a 14-4 win.
Letlow defeated Wray junior Paul Campfield in a one-sided 7-1 quarterfinal match. The first period was mostly scoreless, with Campfield trying to escape until Letlow ran off a trio of takedowns.
Hayden's Scott Armbruster lost, 7-6, in the first round of the consolation bracket to Holly's Nick Hammes, eliminating him from the tournament.
Steamboat assistant coach Shane Yeager said Friday night's second round of Class 4A consolation matches would say a lot about Steamboat wrestler Houston Mader.
Mader's 10-2 victory against Broomfield's Mick Ramsey revealed a resilient character.
Mader had lost his earlier Class 4A quarterfinal - one that turned into a clash of two determined seniors.
After Mader circled Northridge's Easton Ramirez with some quick-footed maneuvering, Ramirez exploded with a big takedown, slamming Mader into a position he could not recover from. For just shy of an entire minute, Mader avoided a pin, squirming under the constant pressure of Ramirez and switching the weight from shoulder blade to shoulder blade. But Mader couldn't hold out forever and eventually succumbed to the pin at 1:31.
"I was really trying to catch him with my head up," said Ramirez, a three-time state placer. "I guess you could say I caught him, but I work on that move all the time - everything from the tie(-up), that's where I'm most confident from."
Mader could have had his confidence shot, eliminated from title contention in his third consecutive state appearance, but instead, he re-entered the Pepsi Center renewed.
He dominated Ramsey, scoring a quick takedown and earning back points to jump ahead 5-0 and hold on for a win and another day of wrestling back toward a podium finish.