Wakulla wrestlers compete at state championship

Wakulla’s Brady Jackson has his hand raised in victory. He would finish in 6th place for 138 pounds.

Special to The Sun

Everyone hopes for a storybook ending. In fantasies, the villain is always defeated, wrongs are righted, dreams are fulfilled, the hero gets the girl, then rides off into the sunset to live happily ever after.
Wakulla Coach Will Pafford and his posse of coaches and wrestlers rode into the Silver Spurs arena in Kissimmee with a steely gaze and firm resolve, determined to apprehend the elusive prize that they have been doggedly pursuing for months. Pafford was followed by a cavalcade of family and friends to cheer on the War Eagles in their pursuit of championship glory.
Matthew Thaxton was up first for Wakulla, where he faced off with Somerset’s Jake Austin. Austin, the eventual champion at 113, won by technical fall 16-0.
Next, 126 pounder Troy Thaxton lost 7-5 in a close match with Nevan Hayes of Zephyrhills Christian.
At 138, Brady Jackson seized what would be the only Wakulla win in round one with a come from behind 12-9 decision over Jacob Reber of McKeel Academy. Jackson and Reber went back and forth until Jackson finally took the lead for good with 59 seconds left in the match.
Aaron Robinson, like Thaxton, was faced with an exceedingly difficult first round matchup and lost by pinfall to top ranked Michael Kersey, the eventual champion at 144.
At 150, Nate Jacobs lost a close decision 4-2 to Bryan Picallo, one of several highly touted wrestlers from Cardinal Gibbons. Auston Ryals lost by pinfall to Hernando’s Shaw Garrett.
Subsequently, Kohl Pippin lost to Russell Fickett of Mount Dora by pin at 215 and Adleigh Caquimbo fell to Hudson’s Gavyn Uribes at 285.
In the quarter finals and round 1 of the consolations, the War Eagles again recorded only one win, which eliminated all but two Wakulla wrestlers from the tournament.
The sole win belonged to Aaron Robinson whose 48 second pin over Zackery Wells of Avon Park advanced him to the next round.
Although,sophomore Brady Jackson’s loss by pinfall in the quarterfinals to 7th grade wrestling prodigy and eventual champion Asher Bacon of First Baptist Naples would send him to the consolation side of the bracket, he too would remain in medal contention.
In round 2 of the consolations, Jackson secured a spot on the podium with a 3-1 decision over Jefferson Sr.’s Marco Gandy.
Later, Weeki Wachee’s Ricky Bowermaster won 6-2 over Robinson, consequently eliminating him from competition.
From there, Jackson would be the last man standing for the War Eagles. In Round 3, Jackson notched another win against familiar district opponent Liberty County’s Hunter Brown. The 13-0 major over Brown advanced him to the consolation semifinals, where he would face Malikai Badillo of Mater Lakes Academy. Badillo won by major decision 9-0.
The loss placed Jackson in a match to contend for 5th place versus 3rd ranked Dominic Fouché of Clearwater Central Catholic. It would be Jackson’s last match of the tournament and Pafford’s last match as Wakulla’s head coach.
Fouché pinned Jackson at the two-minute mark, but Brady’s performance throughout the tournament was enough to proudly take 6th place at 138 lbs.
When the match concluded, Pafford, with a contemplative expression on his face, remained seated for as long as he could. It was only 12 seconds, but it seemed much longer.
No doubt, a million memories inundated his thoughts as he sat in the War Eagles corner for the last time. Teary eyed, Pafford exited the arena doors, he was met in the lobby by family and friends who embraced him, one by one, and expressed their support and gratitude.
The next day, Coach Pafford commented, “The boys competed hard this weekend. Brady coming from behind to win his match to become a state placer was an amazing moment.
“The team should be very proud of everything they have accomplished this year,” the coach said. “It has been an honor leading this team the last 13 years. Thank you to every current/former wrestler and parent. Other than that, all I know is I love Wakulla High School and War Eagle wrestling.”
In a perfect wrestling story, the team would win every dual and every tournament, every wrestler would qualify for state and win, and the beloved head coach would end his career with a championship.
In wrestling, as in life, you rarely get everything you want, but at least in this story Pafford gets the girl and a beautiful family to live happily ever after with and that is more than enough.