By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half
BATTLE CREEK – With the MHSAA Division 3 wrestling championship at stake, Richmond senior Connor Behem had his Dundee opponent on his back Saturday afternoon at Kellogg Arena.
It was the first minute of their match, and the Dundee wrestler frantically was trying to raise his hand, as if he were reaching for a championship but in reality simply trying to avoid a pin. Behem, meanwhile, was using his wrestling repertoire as he tried to pin his opponent’s shoulders to the mat.
“Time was going by really slowly,” Behem said. “It felt like an hour when he was on his back, but I knew it was only a few seconds.”
Finally, 67 seconds into the match, Behem got the pin, not only ending an incredible comeback that netted Richmond the MHSAA championship but writing a script that Hollywood would have a tough time turning down.
Richmond edged Dundee 27-25 for its seventh Finals championship and fourth in the past six years.
Richmond faced Dundee in the Final for the third year in a row, and Dundee, the two-time defending champion, had a comfortable 25-12 lead with three matches left.
“I thought it was slipping away,” Richmond coach Brandon Day said. “For them to come out and do what they did, I’m so proud of them.”
After a decision by Adam Boyd and a pin by Roy Costello, Richmond pulled within 25-21 going into the final match at 112 pounds. Richmond needed a pin by Behem to win the championship, and when he pinned Wallace, the Richmond bench and crowd erupted with joy.
“I kind of broke down emotionally,” Behem said. “It felt so good, words can’t even describe it.”
Behem’s knee locked up in the morning practice, and Roberts did not use him in the 32-19 victory over Remus Chippewa Hills in the Semifinal match.
“His ACL and meniscus are completely torn,” Day said. “He has practiced one day in the last three weeks. We were lucky enough to be able to sit him in the semis. ... Sacrifice won this for us, no doubt.”
Behem played off the injury, as his euphoria likely dampened any pain he might have been feeling.
“My knee is a little bummed, but it’s all right,” he said.
Boyd began the big comeback with a 3-0 victory over Gabe Heiserman at 285. Although a pin would have been huge, Richmond needed at least a decision to stay alive in the match.
“Everyone was telling me I had to get six, and it kind of got in my head a little bit,” Boyd said. “I kind of got away and started talking to our coach and Devin Skatzka, and they calmed me back down and said just get the win, and I got the win.”
Next up was Costello at 103, and he wasted little time in deciding his match with a pin in 31 seconds.
“It was like do or die. I knew I had to do it,” Costello said. “I was so happy as soon as I locked that up. Then I just told Connor good luck.
“I knew Connor was going to get that pin, but once the referee hit that mat, I was up. I was so happy I cried for joy.”
Behem took the mat with the weight of the entire wrestling program on his back and his weakened right knee. He felt it.
“I was nervous, I’m not going to lie,” he said. “I saw my teammates get it done before me, so that helped me. I saw Roy pick up the pin and Adam pick up a big win, so once I got on the mat, all my nerves went away. It felt good.
“I could not have went out my senior year any better than this. Individuals (Finals) are pretty crazy, but nothing compares to team state finals. Nothing.”
Richmond, which finished 32-5, won just six of the 14 matches in the Final but picked up nine bonus points with three pins. Skatzka, a three-time individual MHSAA champion, had the other pin in 56 seconds over Kyle Reinhart at 160 pounds.
Skatzka said the entire team was computing what it would take for the Blue Devils to erase the late 13-point deficit.
“We all were counting it up in our head,” Skatzka said. “We knew we had our matches at 103 and 112, and we were kind of counting on pins from them, and it happened just how we counted on them.
“I can’t even describe what it felt like. It was the most exciting thing I’ve ever been through. I’ve won three state titles in my life and the team state title my freshman year. Nothing has been more exciting than this. Nothing compares to this.”
Richmond’s other victories came on decisions by Aaron Kilburn at 125 and Austin Pawlak at 152.
Dundee, which has been in the MHSAA Finals in eight of the past nine years, ended its season at 25-6. Of their eight wins in the Final, only one registered more than the three points. Sophomore Sean Sterling scored a 22-9 major decision at 145 pounds.
The seven other victories picked up by Dundee were by Drew Scholl (119), Drew Mandell (130), Kenny Reinhart (135), Zach Blevins (140), Donny Mandell (171), Brandon Whitman (189) and Tye Thompson (215).
“It was a good dual,” Dundee coach Tim Roberts said. “We end up having great duals every year. They have a great team and do a great job over there, and they have a great coach, obviously.
“They did a super job, I have to give them credit.”
Six Dundee wrestlers finished 3-0 over the weekend: Donny Mandell, Reinhart, Blevins, Sterling, Whitman and Thompson. Skatzka and Costello were the only Richmond wrestlers to go 3-0 for the weekend.
“I am so proud of the effort from everybody from top to bottom,” Day said. “We gave up bonus points one match, and we had three falls.
“That’s how you win state titles.”
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PHOTO: Richmond poses with its MHSAA Division 3 championship trophy Saturday at Kellogg Arena. (Click to see more at HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)