Demons 1 match away from first state title shot

Qwade Gehring needs a minute after losing his match, which happened to be the deciding decision in Holmen’s 27-26 Division 1 state semifinal victory over Burlington Friday night at the UW-Madison Field House. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)


By Mike Ramczyk

MADISON – The usually talkative Jade Gribble was speechless, fumbling for the right words.

When asked about his thoughts on a controversial penalty that helped cost the Burlington Demons a chance at their first state championship, he paused, still thunderstruck by what he had just witnessed.

Though top-ranked Holmen overcame a late eight-point deficit to take the final two matches and escape with a 27-26 victory, it was a seemingly harmless celebration early in the match that ended up factoring in the final score, for better or worse.

Hayden Halter, the 106-pound state champion, moved back up to his normal 113 pounds and gritted out a 4-3 victory to tie the match at 15-15.

But the emotional freshman, proud of his huge win, flexed his muscles in celebration toward the Holmen crowd. The referee immediately took a point away from the Demons, and it was suddenly a 15-14 deficit.

The head referee then walked over to the Demon bench, consisting of roughly 10 standing competitors, and vehemently warned they “can’t direct anything at their opponent” in a stern, low tone.

What seemed insignificant at the time killed Burlington. While certainly not the only reason for defeat, it couldn’t be avoided.

“Emotions got high, and he (Halter) got excited, I think he was frustrated,” Gribble said. “I think a lot of times, we try to take the fun out of sports and we can’t have any emotion, but the referee said he aimed it at Holmen, and it wasn’t even the crowd, but at the other guys.”

In the first match of the night, a 49-13 thrashing of Slinger, the match began with another freshman, Zach Wallace, giving a “thumbs up” sign toward the Slinger bench. The referees called it unsportsmanlike and restarted what seemed to be a 7-0 Wallace victory.

Unfazed, Wallace salvaged his mistake with a quick takedown in overtime.

Burlington assistant coach Jason Bousman said the Demon coaches warned their wrestlers before the Holmen match, but sometimes emotions and the enormity of the moment can be too much.

“We wrestled hard, and we had a few opportunities we didn’t capitalize on, and they did capitalize,” a visibly stunned Gribble said. “That was the difference. They’re a very good team. There are a lot of things we could do over, but the end result…”

Burlington finishes its historic season 13-1.

Holmen improved to 18-0 and will battle Stoughton (21-1), which beat four-time defending state champion Kaukauna, 34-30, Friday night.

The Holmen-Stoughton matchup means there will be a new state champion in Division 1.


Jake Skrundz got into a hellacious predicament Friday night, but he recovered and won, 7-1. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

A bad flip leads to mismatches

Gribble said the Demons needed to move a few guys around to give themselves a shot against mighty Holmen, so Nate Crayton moved up to 195, while Zach Wallace moved up to 182.

Eli Kiesler started the match by getting pinned in a minute at 170.

Wallace also suffered a pin fall, and the Demons went from blowout victory to serious hole, 12-0.

Down 15-3, the Demons stormed back with six straight wins, sparked by a Wyatt Hayes pin in 1:18 at 285.

Jaden Bird overcame a 2-0 deficit and rode out Alex Pellowski to take a 4-3 lead, and Hayden Halter battled for a 4-3 win at 113. After getting taken down late in the second, Halter, a technically-sound machine, fired off an escape and takedown to win.

Cody Welker, Ben Stevenson and Zach Weiler strung together three decision victories, highlighted by Stevenson raising his hands to the packed stands of Demon fans and students, and all was well.

Burlington was up 23-15 with four matches to go.

Then came the fall.

Sophomore Max Ehlen recovered from a tough loss against Slinger to go toe-to-toe with multiple-time state qualifier and senior Tanner Schultz. But midway through the third period, Ehlen got caught and pinned, a devastating blow.

“Max wrestled a great match, but at the end of the match, people will look at the box score and see he got pinned,” Gribble said.

However, at 145, sophomore Jake Skrundz answered in style.

Upside down and looking like his left arm was going to pop out of socket, Skrundz writhed in pain. But he seized the moment, digging deep and reversing onto Holmen’s Wyatt McCutchen. Once Skrundz was on top, he dominated, 7-1, opening back up a 26-21 lead.

Gribble added he thought Skrundz had a pin, with his opponent’s shoulders down, but it wasn’t called.

“We lost the flip, and that made a big difference,” Gribble said. “It forced us to do some different things at 70, 82 and 95. And we had a couple toss-up matches. So we flipped at 145 and 152, and it gave them the advantage because their state qualifier had already beaten Kumprey at individual state.”

After Zach Gordon grinded out a 3-1 win over Ben Kumprey at 152 to cut it to 26-24, Qwade Gehring was in trouble against Reed Williams, who took third at 152 at individual state.

Williams opened up 4-1, toying with Gehring and showing his experience. The 11-5 victory finished the match.

Gehring broke down, bursting with emotion and walking away from the mat for a moment alone.

“I thought Qwade actually wrestled really well,” Gribble said.

“No, not really,” said Gehring on if he had calmed down yet, 15 minutes after the match. “Not til next season. I went all out for six minutes, and he was the better wrestler.”

“But I felt like I let the team down, and I let myself down. I let everyone down.”

Pundits can point to a multitude of reasons, but the Demons simply didn’t get it done Friday night. The heart-breaking part is that they were one match, and maybe even one point, from surviving and advancing.

Even if the match ended 27-27, Bousman said he believed Holmen may have won based on the criteria of pins, where Holmen had three to Burlington’s one.


The Demons get crazy after Wyatt Hayes’ pin at 285 against Holmen. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

Crayton, Travis reflect on brilliant careers

Seniors Nate Crayton and Max Travis wrestled their last matches as Demons.

Crayton earned a pin and an 8-3 decision at 195, while Travis fell in two decisions, including a 9-6 loss against Holmen.

Crayton downplayed the penalty point call.

“It’s obviously heartbreaking,” he said. “I’ve been doing this since I was 4, and it was one of my ultimate goals to win team state. You can’t blame it on a certain someone, you win as a team and lose as a team.”

“We knew the rule coming in. To be honest, that call could’ve gone both ways.”

“He was just excited that he won,” Travis said about Halter.

Crayton finished fourth at individual state as a senior, and Travis also made the trip to state last weekend.

They will remember the 2018 Demons as the best team they’ve ever been on.

“We all connect so well together, and we all hang out as a team,” Travis said.

“It was a heck of a career,” Crayton said. “I can’t thank my coaches enough. I would do it all over again.”

Crayton said he hopes to come back and help coach the Demons, while Travis said he wants to support the future squads as well.

For Gribble, the big picture is bright, as 12 of tonight’s 14 roster spots went to Demons who aren’t seniors.

“We had a great season, a great group of kids, and I’m real proud of them,” Gribble said. “Obviously, we didn’t get the job done. Holmen’s ranked No. 1 for a reason. We are still young, and we got bright things ahead. We let an opportunity go by, and I’m a big believer you have to take advantage of opportunities when you get them.”