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Both Oakland Mills coach Brad Howell and North Hagerstown Hall of Fame coach Greg Slick said it best: "steel sharpens steel."

That was certainly the case on Feb. 5 in a matchup of two of the state's elite wrestling programs. More than that, though, the dual had it all – three overtime matches in a row, high scoring and low scoring contests, state champions under the spotlight, big pins, upsets and a winner-take-all bout to finish it off.

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In the end it was state champion 145-pounder Aaron Brooks who sealed the 36-30 victory for the Hubs with a pin at Oakland Mills, but it was clear afterwards that both teams now enter the postseason and regional duals battle tested and ready for a deep playoff run.

"Tonight everybody got to see a state caliber wrestling dual meet match," Slick said with a smile through his silver goatee. "Oakland Mills is defending 1A/2A dual meet state champs, we're the runner-up in 3A/4A. That's the way a good wrestling match between two pretty solid teams ought to look I think.

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"It had it all."

The nonleague match between a premier 1A/2A team and top 3A/4A team came about at last year's state tournament. Both Howell and Slick were having trouble finding teams that were willing to take a chance and wrestle against their team, and both coaches decided then and there to schedule a dual meet to finish off the regular season with the idea of entering the postseason run having battled one of the state's best. Howell said he hopes this is the beginning of a yearly dual meet.

"When (Howell) and I shook hands at the end, both of us know that steel sharpens steel. You don't get better wrestling against teams that are not very good or forfeit a bunch of weight classes," Slick said. "You get better wrestling when you get guys out on the mat that are going to challenge each other and make them wrestle six, seven or eight and a half minutes like we had tonight."

"We picked this dual to have at the very end of the year right before the regional duals for a good reason. We wanted to get tested and I told the boys before we took the mats tonight that it was going to be one of those matches that they were not going to back down, they were not going to crack, and they are not going to fold," Howell said. "They were going to come at us, and that's why we had them here. We wanted somebody that, if we punch them in the face, they're going to punch us back. That's what we wanted. We wanted a team that was going to challenge us and we got that."

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It looked early on that North Hagerstown could run away with it. However, Howell said he told his team that this wasn't the type of dual to get tight. He "took the reigns off" a few weeks ago, and said to his guys to enjoy the moment and let it loose.

That's what the Scorpions did. Paul Johnson (182 pounds) got his team on the scoreboard with a solid 6-4 decision, setting up a stretch of bouts that fueled the fans of both teams into a frenzy.

Solomon Barnes (195) battled the Hubs' Aaron Hudson to a 3-3 tie after three periods, which then went to double overtime. Barnes earned a stalling point to take a 4-3 lead in that extra period, but Hudson answered to take a 5-4 lead in the third overtime with a reversal.

Barnes, however, showed his determination and the importance of wrestling until the whistle. In a gym that has seen its share of buzzer-beaters on the hard court, he beat the third overtime bell with a reversal of his own, taking a 6-5 decision and sending a roar through the Scorpions bench and crowd.

"We were looking for resolve. That's what we were focused on, especially on our feet and in those tight matches when you're wrestling toe-to-toe with a good wrestler. We didn't want to fold, and we knew their guys weren't going to fold either," Howell said. "We were prepared for this kind of match."

It turned out to be just the beginning. North Hagerstown notched an equally exciting bout of its own as Brad Loewen (220) secured an overtime takedown to beat Darrell Wade, 3-1.

The buzzer beaters weren't done just yet, and neither was Oakland Mills. Heavyweight Kevin Rockwell countered a headlock by Chad Malcolm and jumped on top at the sound of the ringing scoreboard to get the Scorpions back in it with a 3-1 victory in overtime.

"I really appreciated that we went down by 18 early and the boys relaxed, stayed composed, never lost hope," Howell said. "Sometimes you get in that scenario and guys' heads' get down. We just started clawing away and getting back in. We've been there before, like in the (state dual) finals last year against Middletown."

Still trailing 21-9 halfway through the dual, second-year wrestler and senior Daiquan Anderson stepped up huge on his senior night. He quickly earned a takedown and locked up a nearside cradle and stuck North Hagerstown's Justin Balcita, ranked No. 15 in the state by the Maryland State Wrestling Associaion, in just 57 seconds.

"Big stick by Daiquan," Howell said. "He's been flying under the radar. He's stuck a couple ranked kids this year. ... I guess the secret's out on him."

The Hubs curved the momentum, though, thanks to a 4-0 win by Dalton Tiffany at 113-pounds before sophomore and defending state champion sophomore Brian Stuart was awarded a forfeit, much to the dismay of Stuart and North Hagerstown's fans.

The forfeit made it 30-15, but it was time for the Scorpions' arguably top four wrestlers to finish off the dual.

Kyle Farace (126) locked up his patented cradle in a hurry and earned the fall in 34 seconds, and Johnny Rynn (132), ranked No. 12 by the MSWA, battled No. 21 Alimzhan Yakhozov in a back and forth affair.

Yakhozov took an early 8-4 lead after earning a set of three nearfall points, but Rynn responded in the second period by getting a reversal and five nearfall points on two sets of tilts before the buzzer to make it 11-8. Rynn would hold on for the 15-12 decision, cutting the Hubs' lead to just six with two bouts remaining.

Senior Justin Gatewood sent an early message with a huge takedown, putting Ari Kelly on his back before eventually tying the match at 30-30 with a pin in 1 minute, 29 seconds and sending a buzz throughout the gym.

Unfortunately for Oakland Mills, senior Dakota Thompson was simply overmatched in the final match of the eventful night. North Hagerstown had Aaron Brooks, who won a state championship last year as a freshman and looks primed to be a potential four-time state champ, waiting in the wings.

Brooks built a commanding 6-0 lead before getting the fall in 4:37 to seal the Hubs' victory.

"Looking down the line and knowing that we had our defending state champ Aaron Brooks wrestling last, I liked our chances," Slick said. "At the beginning of the match you never know what the score is going to be at that point, but I felt good about having him finish things off."

The win for the Hubs had a significant impact on both their and Oakland Mills' postseason standing. They needed a victory to qualify for the 3A/4A North, one of the toughest regions in the state this year, while the loss likely cost the Scorpions a chance at hosting the 1A/2A South region duals on Feb. 10. Instead, Oakland Mills will likely be the No. 2 seed and travel to No. 1 seed LaPlata.

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First, the Scorpions will head to the Overlea Tournament on Feb. 6.

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"Our whole thing is elevating for the end of the year and that's what we were trying to do here," Howell said. "We still got a lot of climbing to do, and Wednesday (at regional duals) we're still trying to get better. We're healthy, kids are excited and there's a lot of passion in the room."

North Hagerstown 36, Oakland Mills (10-1 county, 24-5 overall) 30

152: Isaiah Brooks (NH) pinned Soloman Ulysses (OM), 1:30 [6-0]

160: Kaleb Corbin (NH) pinned Anthony Morales (OM), 2:54 [12-0]

170: Connor Almoney (NH) pinned Mulba Kamara (OM), 1:27 [18-0]

182: Paul Johnson (OM) dec. Ryan Montes (NH), 6-4 [18-3]

195: Solomon Barnes (OM) dec. Aaron Hudson (NH), 6-5 3OT [18-6]

220: Brad Loewen (NH) dec. Darrell Wade (OM), 3-1 OT [21-6]

285: Kevin Rockwell (NH) dec. Chad Malcolm (NH), 3-1 OT [21-9]

106: Daiquan Anderson (OM) pinned Justin Balcita (NH), :57 [21-15]

113: Dalton Tiffany (NH) dec. Chase Williams (OM), 4-0 [24-15]

120: Brian Stuart (NH) fft. [30-15]

126: Kyle Farace (OM) pinned Hoyt Chaney (NH), :34 [30-21]

132: Johnny Rynn (OM) dec. Alimzhan Yakhozov (NH), 15-12 [30-24]

138: Justin Gatewood (OM) pinned Ari Kelly (NH), 1:29 [30-30]

145: Aaron Brooks (NH) pinned Dakota Thompson (OM), 4:37 [36-30]

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