CANFIELD - It's not often you catch a high school wrestler with a cookie in his hand - unless it's the offseason.
Eating nutritiously to maintain a healthy weight is a key part of the sport.
So, when Canfield senior John Poullas was spotted with a plate full of chocolate goodies after the Cardinals' 37-21 victory over Howland, everyone knew how big the win was for Canfield.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Canfield’s Curtis Burns, left, and Howland’s Mike Bell get a hold of each other during the 285-pound match on Saturday. Bell defeated Burns in the match.
The Cardinals earned their second Eastern Ohio Wrestling League, Division I title in three years and also claimed an All-American Conference, American Division championship by beating the Tigers (6-2, 3-1 EOWL) on Saturday afternoon.
Canfield (14-2, 4-0) won the first four matches of the dual meet, all of which were tightly contested bouts that the Cardinals pulled out in the final few minutes. That set the tone for what was a largely one-sided clash between the top two teams in the EOWL.
"This is the biggest team win that we could have possibly got," said the 170-pound Poullas, who secured a critical 6-3 win over Howland's Cody Davis in the final seconds. "Individually, you can go to state, and you can do this and you can do that, and those are big matches, but as a whole entire team, this is the biggest match for us."
That was obvious by the packed gymnasium for what was also the Cardinals' senior night. Canfield decided to salute disabled American veterans as well by wearing camouflage singlets with a Cardinal on the back. The added motivation may have played a role in the win, too.
The Cardinals won the first four matches by a combined 12 points, and two came down to the waning seconds. Those victories were crucial to the final score, and Howland coach Bill Beasom said home-court advantage always helps between these two teams (the home school has won the last four matchups). Beasom thought the raucous atmosphere may have persuaded the Tigers to attempt ill-advised moves.
"I think the crowd had a little bit to do with it," Beasom said. "They're out there, and they're doing things that they normally don't do. The nerves and stuff come into play with a big crowd. Home-field advantage is something you have to deal with. It helped us last year."
The Tigers beat up on Canfield last year, winning 56-12. That was fresh on the minds of the Cardinals, Canfield coach Dean Conley said. The 13-year veteran has had his share of battles with the Tigers (one of the two has won the last four EOWL titles), but his freshman class, which makes up nearly a quarter of his starting lineup, has never been involved in such a highly touted match. This worried some of the seniors.
"They said, 'We don't think the young guys understand how important this is, so we want some time to talk to them about last year's match," said Conley of a conversation he had with the senior class earlier in the week. "So I think our kids circled this date last year. Some of our kids always circle Howland because they've grown up wrestling them and they're our rival.
"I think our kids really wanted this. They wanted it for our seniors, they wanted it for our school, and they were just really excited."
Their enthusiasm only grew during the first five matches. Canfield senior Steven Hamilton erased an early deficit to beat Jordan Radich, 9-5. Poullas followed with his last-second victory over Davis, and then Stan Socha secured what might have been the biggest upset of the match when he beat Howland senior Josh Grodesky at 182 pounds. Socha (19-5) escaped in the third period and fought off several take-down attempts by Grodesky to secure the win. The victory was one of several that Canfield claimed in the final seconds, and Beasom said he thinks he knows why the Cardinals were the ones pulling out the close matches.
"I think it happens in the practice room, and I just talked to the kids about it now," he said. "When you're in practice and you're comfortable with someone, instead of forcing them to finish the move, you kind of roll over because he's your buddy and you just kind of want to take it easy on him. And then when you come out here, you can't do that. This is a great learning experience for all of our team. You have to drill with intensity and you have to finish every single move. You can't let up."
The victory was one all of the Cardinals relished, especially the seniors, including one whose season ended prematurely because of an injury.
"I'm happy for our seniors," Conley said. "I was proud of our team.
"Anthony Spencer, our 126, it was hard losing him," said Poullas of the four-year letterwinner who is lost for the season with an injured back. "You wrestle your whole life for your senior year, and his is over, so it was tough. We won the match, but every time we wrestle we have him in the back of our minds because he was going to do something this year."