MACON — After winning his state finals match — Jefferson's last of the night — an ecstatic Luke Cochran walked over and flexed his biceps in front of a large contingent of cheering Dragon fans at Macon Coliseum
His celebratory flex was symbolic of Jefferson's entire tournament, really.
Manhandling its competition for two days (Thursday-Friday) on the mats in Macon, the Jefferson wrestling team perhaps served notice that a two-year hiatus from winning traditional titles was nothing more than a blip in the storied program's history.
After missing out on championships in 2019 and 2020, the Dragons dominated their way to the Class AAAA state title by an 88-point margin with 265 points. The resounding win marked their 19th title in 21 years. Jefferson won a state title every season from 2001-2018, building an 18-year streak of titles that’s unmatched in GHSA wrestling annals.
Now, the Dragons are back at the top.
“I’m very, very positive that we made a statement,” second-year coach Kyle Baird said when asked if he thought his team had done so. “I think there’s more to come. I expect more going forward. My guys expect more out of themselves … We’ve got some dang studs on the team, and people are watching out for us, and they know who we are.”
Jefferson returned to championship form by advancing eight wrestlers into the finals and producing three state champions.
Chaz McDonald (106), Davis Dollar (113) and Cochran (170) — all sophomores — won state titles. Davis Dendy (132), Mason Mingus (138), Ayers Honiotes (145), Hoke Poe-Hogan (152) and Creed Thomas (160) finished as runners-up. Tyson Thurmond (120) closed his career with a third-place finish, winning four times in the consolation bracket following a quarterfinals loss. Avery Nelms reached the 182-pound consolation semifinals.
“I’m just super proud of the coaches that we have and the guys that we have, the will, the determination to get to where they’re at and make it through healthy — that’s the main part,” Baird said. “Just doing what they’re supposed to do get where they need to be. I’m proud of them for that. I just look forward to what we have coming.”
Jefferson, which has now won 23 traditional state titles in its program history, did much of the heavy lifting during the Thursday rounds, building up a near 100-lead over second-place North Oconee (231-139) after the first day in Macon.
"It was even better that I knew we had it wrapped up going into the second day," Baird said. "That's always a huge relief for yourself and for your kids. They can relax and they can wrestle their matches and know that they don't have to wrestle different to get points here and there ... That was huge."
Jefferson advanced 10 of 13 wrestlers to the second-day of the tournament.
"The kids went after it," Baird said. "We talked about it before we started wrestling that day that when you get on the mat, you get somebody out, you take them down, you put them out of the tournament as quick as you can. That's what we did."
The Dragons' day-one dominance was followed by a highly-competitive finals round Friday. Jefferson wrestlers went 3-5 in those matches, three of which went to overtime.
“Those guys fought hard,” Baird said. “I feel for some of them with things that fell the opposite direction, but I’m proud of the way they battled. I’m not disappointed. I’m mad for them. But that’s how it is as a coach. You’re not wrestling the match, but in your head, you’re wrestling the match for them. And it hurts just as much when they lose.”
McDonald and Dollar delivered Jefferson’s most convincing finals victories, with McDonald opening with a 11-6 over Shaw’s Johnathan McDaniel at 106 and Dollar following with a 6-1 win over Flowery Branch’s Aidan Fincher at 113.
Dendy then lost a 9-5 decision to North Oconee’s Beau Branand at 132, while Mingus fell 8-5 to three-time champion Josh Kincaid of Madison County at 138.
Honiotes lost 4-2 in overtime to Flowery Branch’s Seth Larson at 145, and Poe-Hogan was in a close match with North Oconee’s Sam Johnson in the third period of the 152 finals before being pinned.
At 160 pounds, Thomas took an early lead in his finals match before being edged 5-3 in overtime.
Cochran, however, closed the finals round, and Jefferson’s tournament, with a 7-5 overtime win at 170 over West Laurens’ Greyson Clark.
“That joker, he has worked his tail off all year. He deserved that,” Baird said of Cochran’s dramatic win. “He’s got a gas tank that’s second-to-none to anybody in the state.”
Much of the same could be in store for next year as Jefferson returns six of its eight state finalists off a team that delivered state championships in both dual and traditional competition, as well as region championships in both.
"You've got three sophomores that won, and then you have three freshman that got second," Baird said. "Out of the eight that I had in the finals, six of them are freshmen or sophomores. That is a very good problem to have."
Baird said he believes the best is to come.
“Oh, yes, we’re just getting warmed up,” he said.