Hampered by injury all season, No. 12 North Carroll came to yesterday's Carroll County wrestling tournament at Liberty as the picture of health.
For most in attendance, it came as little surprise that about nine hours later, the Panthers were posing for another picture - with the trophy.
After placing nine in the finals - three more than any other team - North Carroll came away with four individual titles to hold off defending champion South Carroll by 18 points and claim its first county title since completing a string of eight straight in 1994.
North Carroll finished with 147.5 points, followed by South Carroll (129.5), No. 15 Westminster (124), Francis Scott Key (95.5) and Liberty (66).
"When we're healthy, I think we're the best team in the county," said North Carroll coach Bryan Wetzel. "We showed that today."
Reeling after watching top seeds Seth Knights (121) and Pat Maloff (127) lose in the first two of their finals matchups, the Panthers turned things around at 132. After narrowly avoiding getting pinned in the final seconds, second-seeded Tyler Graham quickly turned the tables on top-seeded Lee Crowl of Francis Scott Key, rolling him over for a takedown with five seconds left in a 6-2 victory.
"We've wanted to win this more than anything," Graham said. "I figured I had to start something. Seth didn't win. Pat didn't win. ... I needed to start my team off somehow."
Graham did just that, with the Panthers' Kyle Smith (142), Fran Jackson (154) and Cash McHargue (173) following with victories.
Other champions were South Carroll's Andrew Gold (103), Drew Winfield (162) and Jake Creech (heavyweight); Westminster's Josh Corkran (114), Eric Blomster (127), Jason Brown (137) and Travis Mohlhenrich (147); Francis Scott Key's Dustin Wiles (191) and Liberty's Paul Hartman (121).
Leading South Carroll by 12 points heading into the finals and assured of points from nine finalists, the Panthers had all but clinched the win.
"I didn't come in here expecting to win the championship. I came in here looking to come in second place," said South Carroll coach Dennis Frazier. "We had 12 wrestlers; 11 placed in the top three. You can't do a lot better than that."
The Cavaliers claimed victories in all six of their consolation final matches, with four of those wrestlers avenging earlier losses to their opponents. Westminster, which last month upset North Carroll in a dual match, won four of its six title matches, but couldn't make up a 23 1/2 -point gap.
In probably the most anticipated match of the night, South Carroll's Winfield, wrestling at 162, charged forward for a third-period takedown on top-seeded Nick Burger of Westminster in a 6-4 win. The match had been stopped for three minutes when Burger suffered an apparent knee injury during the second period.