By Brian Paglia of the Forsyth County News
DULUTH – They rushed off the mat, toward an empty hallway in the Infinite Energy Arena, where Jackson Bardall collapsed on his back.
The North Forsyth senior had no energy left to defend the onslaught of Raiders coaches who jumped on him and howled around him in euphoria. He’d spent it all struggling with Kennesaw Mountain heavyweight Kobe Gadsen in the Class AAAAAA 285-pound finals at the GHSA Wrestling State Championships on Saturday. After grappling for 8 minutes 30 seconds to a victory in a 3-2 decision by ultimate tiebreaker, the only celebration Bardall could manage now was to lift his arms straight in the air with fists clenched.
North head coach Travis Jarrard had fallen to his knees when Bardall finally clinched, awestruck that it was a college football-bound heavyweight ending the Raiders’ state title drought.
In the empty hallway, Jarrard looked down at Bardall still amazed.
“Thirteen years since we’ve had a state champion,” Jarrard said, “and he doesn’t even like wrestling.”
Bardall gave out an exasperated chuckle.
“I sure do like winning though,” he said.
The night ended with Bardall, the Eastern Kentucky University football signee, in a marathon against Gadsen.
The two grappled their way to a scoreless first period. Gadsen got an escape to go up 1-0 in the second period. Bardall responded with an escape of his own to tie it 1-1 and force sudden victory overtime in which the wrestler who scored the first point would be declared the winner. Neither scored.
Bardall took a 2-1 lead in the first extra tiebreaker period when he flipped out of Gadsen’s grasp for an escape, but Gadsen scored on an escape in the second tiebreaker to tie it 2-2. Only the 30-second ultimate tiebreaker was left.
“I’ve been preparing ever since I got [to state] that probably every match was going to be eight and a half minutes,” Bardall said. “So I was expecting that. I’m used to it. Coach [Jarrard] says I’ve been in more overtimes than any heavyweight he’s ever coached.”
Starting on top, Bardall hung on to Gadsen and never let go. Neither scored a point, but Bardall was declared the winner for not allowing Gadsen to score from the bottom position.
“Wrestling isn’t my love,” Bardall said. “I just hate losing. Hate every part of it. It gets deep under me, and I can’t ever let it go. So it means I didn’t lose.”
Bardall helped North to a second-place finish in the Class AAAAAA team standings with 106 points behind Archer (172.5), which won its fourth consecutive state title. The Raiders had five state placers in all, including senior Hunter Loyd who lost in the 195 finals to Hillgrove’s Carlin Powell. Paul Watkins placed third at 113 for North, while Connor Carroll placed fourth at 152 and Bradley Thomas fifth at 145.