However, Empey dug deep, scored the go-ahead points with under 10 seconds left in his 220-pound championship match at the Sierra Nevada Classic, and held on for dear life as his opponent tried to get away.
Empey’s 4-3 victory over Mick Dougharity of Sam Barlow, makes him 23-0 on the season, a year after accumulating a 50-0 record as a sophomore.
By going 6-0 at the SNC Wednesday and Thursday at the Reno Livestock Events Center, Empey is now a two-time champion at the prestigious event.
Empey pinned his first three opponents, and then claimed an 8-3 decision in the quarterfinals before getting back to his pinning ways. A second-round pin in the semifinals set up the showdown with Dougharity.
“This is a tougher weight this year for sure,” Reed wrestling coach Dan Barraza said. “He’s done an excellent job getting in position, finishing shots and wrestling his matches.”
It didn’t look good for Empey early on in the title matchup though.
The two wrestlers spent the first round feeling each other out, and the scoreboard read 0-0 after the first two minutes.
Empey started the second round on top, but Dougharity got a reversal to put Empey in a 2-0 hole heading into the final round.
To start the third, Empey was on the bottom and put Dougharity in an awkward position sitting on his butt. Empey pushed him over, earning a match-tying reversal with 47 seconds left on the clock.
However, Dougharity escaped with 21 seconds remaining to take a 3-2 advantage.
Empey had to make something happen as the two grapplers stood head-to-head with time on Dougharity’s side. Empey found a way to score two points, but only had Dougharity by one foot as Dougharity attempted to hop free of Empey’s grasp as the clock expired.
Spanish Springs had five wrestlers perform well at the perennially tough tournament.
Leading the way as expected was senior 120-pounder Curtis Lampert. Lampert won his first four matches to reach the semifinals of the championship bracket before falling to Brandon Rodgers of Clovis West via a second-round pinfall, keeping Lampert out of the championship match.
Lampert rebounded in his first consolation bracket match and earned the right to face Zech Bressler of Henley for third place.
Bressler made quick work of the Cougar, recording a pin in less than 50 seconds, sending Lampert to fourth place.
The Cougars also had two wrestlers who were one win away from placing.
Senior Jaycob Jones at 160 pounds and sophomore Blake Nauman at 138 pounds both reached the quarterfinals by winning their first three matches, but couldn’t advance far enough through the consolation bracket to make it to at least the seventh-place match.
Heavyweight Chase Hauder and 126-pounder Joei Jones both went 3-2 at the tournament for Spanish Springs.
“We preach every year that we’re getting ourselves ready for regionals,” SSHS wrestling coach Joe Imelli said. “The two Jones boys, I liked how they wrestled. Jaycob is a senior and had been injured since his freshman year, so he’s just now getting to actually do it. He was one match out of placing. Blake Nauman had a phenomenal tournament, beat the No. 5 seed to reach the quarterfinals, but then lost two close matches.
“I like what our team is doing. We’re not quite getting everyone up on the podium yet, but everyone understands the process is about getting us ready for regionals and state.”
Reed only had two wrestlers make noise at the two-day tournament. Besides Empey, senior Broc Westlake got to stand on the podium.
Westlake, a defending state champion at 189 pounds and took fourth at last year’s SNC, wrestled in the fifth-place match at 195 pounds. This year, Westlake won his first three matches with a trio of first-round pins. He then lost his quarterfinal matchup to Shadow Ridge’s Brandon Fisher in an 8-3 decision.
Westlake won a pair of consolation bracket matches before losing again in the consolation semifinals — a 15-5 major decision to Center‘s Khymba Johnson — which prevented him from wrestling in a second-straight third-place match.
In the fifth-place match, Westlake took on Battle Mountain’s Tugi Cordova. Westlake dominated the mat in the first round, securing a 6-0 lead. He didn’t have to do much after that and took fifth with a 9-4 victory.
“He’s only less than 10 practices into the year, so it’s a little bit of that,” Barraza said. “You make one mistake at big tournaments like this, you’re going to get caught. These guys are good.”