The two thoroughbred wrestling horses that raced each other all season in Carroll County suddenly had nothing left for the stretch drive.
North Carroll and Francis Scott Key faded in the state Class 2A-1A wrestling tournament over the weekend, allowing surprising Northeast of Anne Arundel County to spoil their expected showdown in their backyard at Western Maryland College.
Northeast came to the tournament on a mission for recognition and instead handily walked away with the title. The Eagles took the suspense out of the team championship race halfway through the semifinals and rolled up 120 points for first place.
North Carroll, hoping to give coach Dick Bauerlein his first state tournament championship on the night he was inducted into the Maryland State Wrestling Hall of Fame, came up far short with 70 1/2 points for sixth place.
Francis Scott Key, out to prove its program had reached the top level this season, finished seventh with 63 points.
Key did have the only state champion for Carroll County, when Randy Owings decisioned Northeast's Steve Smiddy, 6-4, at 130 pounds.
Owings, a sophomore, said he was so disappointed by Key's seventh-place finish that it would take him a week to realize his personal accomplishment.
For the Panthers, it was another in a long line of disappointments in the state tournament. They have finished second three times and been among the top six teams the last 10 years.
As explanations for North Carroll's downfall were coming in from all corners, the Panthers' 171-pound standout Chris Boog summed it this way: "I think we're cursed. Every year we have a good team and come into the state tournament and something happens. It's either bad seedings, injuries or bad luck."
Boog was one of three previously unbeaten North Carroll wrestlers who lost Saturday in the semis or finals. Boog, Jer
emy Myers (112) and Doug Dell (103) all came into the tournament at 27-0.
Boog's loss to two-time state champion Grant Johnson of Owings Mills by a technical fall in the semis was no major surprise. Johnson is 35-0 and a probable high school All-American.
But to see Dell and Myers fall back-to-back in the finals was a crushing blow for North Carroll and its fans. Dell and Myers were left in tears by Northeast's talented Kusick twins, Marty and Mike,who swept through the heart of the Panthers.
Marty Kusick (34-0) decisioned Dell, 4-1, with two points for a takedown and two for a reversal in their 103-pound title bout. Dell needed several minutes to recover from that loss.
Then Mike Kusick (33-1) dealt Myers an 8-2 setback that prompted the Northeast fans to stand and cheer.
"Those Kusick twins are unbelievable," said Bauerlein. "They're so physical all the time. I knew they were good but I didn't expect anything like this."
Bauerlein said it was "sad" to see Myers' brilliant career at North Carroll end with a loss. Myers is a senior but Dell, a junior, will have another shot next season.
North Carroll was also hurt by Saidrick Lewis' knee injury in the quarterfinals, when he had to default early in his 152-pound match.
Lewis couldn't return in the consolations and will apparently undergo knee surgery. He said the knee had been bothering him all season and finally "gave out."
Bauerlein said he was disappointed by the showing of his team but he insisted that tournaments are "an individual thing and not indicative of a team. Anything can happen because wrestlers move around to all different weight classes.
"In tournaments, I let kids wrestle where they want," he said. "In dual meets, I make those decisions and use my personnel the best way to help the team.
"I'm smart enough to know that in tournaments you need a lot of luck. The brackets have to fall your way, you have to avoid injuries and everybody has to raise their level in spite of the circumstances."
Bauerlein said he felt his wrestlers were overwhelmed "by all the people and the entire atmosphere of this tournament. We have a lot of young guys and this will happen. I remember when I was a kid and went down to Cole Field House for the state high school basketball tournament with North Carroll. I was in awe of the whole thing."
Key coach Bill Hyson saw his team start to unravel in the preliminaries, when four of his tournament-high 11 wrestlers lost. Jason Hooper (103), Tony Cahoon (112), Josh Bonnette (145) and Jamie DeGroft (152) were all ousted in their first bouts.
And 160-pounder Ed Null (30-2) went down in the semifinals to Dunbar's Martius Harding, 5-3.
"You hope to overachieve in a tournament," said Hyson. "And we TTC didn't do that. But I'm happy for the kids who placed. Randy
Owings was outstanding and I'm happy for him."