Saturday afternoon, Empey went head-to-head with Coronado’s Mackenzie Murphy and concluded his high school wrestling career with a 136th win in a row, going undefeated in his sophomore, junior and senior campaigns as he pinned Murphy with 17 seconds left in the second round.
“It feels good to end the season the way I wanted to. That’s what you’re working for, to win it in your last year,” Empey said. “I’m definitely happy every moment I’m out there. I enjoy it.”
Murphy took fourth place last year as a junior and was looking for the huge upset. He scored a takedown to start the match, but Empey tallied the next nine points before recording the pin.
“That didn’t really bother me,” Empey said of giving up the early points. “I knew I had five and a half more minutes to come back. I try not to let that stuff bother me because some kids get angry and get away from their game plan and what they’re trying to accomplish.”
Empey wasn’t the only Rail City wrestler to come away with a state championship.
Spanish Springs sat in third place as a team entering the championship matches. The Cougars still had two guys left with a chance to take home a title.
At 182 pounds, Tyler Beaulac earned two first-round pins to set up a collision course with Damonte Ranch’s Zack Ewert, the foe Beaulac took down last week for the regional title with a late-match pin.
This time around, Beaulac dominated from the start, scoring a 9-0 victory.
“Tyler has been a hard-luck wrestler for us,” SSHS wrestling coach Joe Imelli said. “He finally got to finish a season. And look what happened. He ended up on the highest platform he could be on.”
One weight class later, Brik Chesley took the mat against Chase Barber of Centennial.
A day earlier, the 195-pounder barely advanced out of the quarterfinals with a 4-3 win. He made the most of his opportunity Saturday though, earning a matchup with Barber by taking down top-seeded Michael Siwiec of Liberty, 3-2, in the semifinals.
In the final, Chesley and Barber battled to a 3-3 deadlock after two rounds. In the third, Barber got an escape off the start and took down Chesley for two more points, giving him the cushion he needed in order to work his strategy. Barber went on to win 8-6 after giving up an escape with 13 seconds to go and preventing Chesley from tying it up with a takedown.
Spanish Springs had two more wrestlers that had a good potential to place Saturday. However, they had to face each other in the consolation bracket.
Senior Ryan Long and freshman Blake Boswell met in the regional final last week with Long earning the victory. Boswell returned the favor in the rematch, taking a 9-3 decision to advance into the third-place match. Boswell came up on the short end of a second-round pin against Eldorado’s Trevor Perez, settling for fourth place.
Spanish Springs racked up 60 points and finished in a tie for fourth place as a team. It was the best finish at state for the Northern wrestling powerhouse. Green Valley won with 137 points, 38 points more than second-place Cimarron-Memorial.
“It was bittersweet. We had some kids who really wrestled tough and lost some close matches, but honestly we had some matches that we gave away,” Imelli said. “It just hurts. You just can’t do that at state. It’s a physical and mental grind. Everyone here is good and out to beat you.”
In the D-1A state tournament, Sparks senior 145-pounder Mario Guadron got all he could handle in the semifinals from Virgin Valley’s Broc Smith, who took Guadron to two overtime sessions before the Railroader eked out a 7-6 victory.
“The way Mario is, the semifinal motivated him and got him excited and fed his hope for the final,” Sparks wrestling coach Ric Fehr said. “That was a good example of what he can do when he faces someone who doesn’t know him. (Lowry) is specifically training against Mario at this point. If you leave the creativity up to the boys, that (final) would have been a different match.”
Guadron then had to go up against Lowry’s Brandon Okuma in the final, who beat up Guadron 9-5 to send Guadron to his second straight runner-up finish at regionals a week ago.
Saturday’s state championship was much of the same. Okuma recorded five takedowns en route to an 11-4 victory. Guadron was second at state both his junior and senior years.
“You’re taking years of difference in experience. Lowry has a program where kids grow up wrestling. We‘re trying to put it together in two or three years and there‘s no catching up,” Fehr said. “Mario worked on the things he needed to. Okuma got in some good shots, and the experience of being able to be more aggressive or more confident, just comes with more mat time. They didn’t even want to play on the mat with him because they knew he had the potential to score. They just went after his feet, which they knew was a weakness.”