HUNTINGTON - Jake Smith had come close before and lost, and didn't like the feeling. He wasn't going to let it happen again.
George Washington's Smith, the state's top-ranked Class AAA wrestler at 145 pounds, earned his school's first championship since 1994 Saturday night as the 65th state tournament concluded at Big Sandy Superstore Arena.
"This feeling is 100 percent different,'' Smith said, comparing it to last year's loss. "I'm so proud of myself and all my coaches - I couldn't have done it without them. They're phenomenal.''
Smith's victory came on a night when Parkersburg South (AAA) and Point Pleasant (AA-A) reaffirmed their superiority over the rest of the state by repeating their team crowns with comfortable margins. It marked the fourth in a row for South and third straight for Point, which moves up to Class AAA next year.
Another top-ranked Kanawha Valley wrestler wasn't as fortunate as Smith, however, as Herbert Hoover senior Josh Mack lost 3-2 to Point's Zach Nibert in double overtime in the AA-A 160-pound final.
Last year, Smith dropped a 5-1 decision in the state finals at 135 as a sophomore, and didn't leave anything to chance Saturday night against sophomore Seth Cutright of Buckhannon-Upshur (47-5).
Smith scored an almost-immediate takedown and led 4-0 after one period before settling for a 5-0 decision. Twice he lifted Cutright completely off the floor in controlling the match.
"I definitely wanted to get in there and score the first takedown,'' Smith said, "and get in the guy's head - instill it mentally and physically out there, just pushing him. I know I got a little gassed at the end, but that's the name of the game.''
Smith became GW's first state titlist since Mark Samples won at 152 pounds in 1994 - the year Samples was voted the AAA state wrestler of the year. Smith (48-5) also set a school record for victories in a season.
"I'm not stopping here, though,'' Smith said. "I've got more goals to achieve. There's the All-America status times two - I get that going next month. It doesn't stop here. Next year I hope to come back here in 365 days and win it again.''
Mack (47-3), like Smith a No. 1-ranked wrestler in his division by WVmat.com, wasn't able to complete his own strong season, losing in the finals for a second straight year, this time in heartbreaking fashion.
With the score tied at 1 and 14 seconds left in the third period, Mack grabbed Nibert's leg and lifted it off the ground in search of a winning takedown. Nibert, however, was able to hop on the other leg and lunge out of bounds to avert the takedown.
Mack took a 2-1 lead with an escape in the first part of the second overtime (which is comprised of two 30-second periods), but Nibert scored a reversal with 15 seconds left in the second part to win.
Twice before this season, Mack had beaten Nibert, including a 10-2 decision in last weekend's Region 4 meet.
"We had a couple close calls that could have went either way,'' said Hoover coach Heath Perry. "If we get one of them to break our way, we win. They just happened to go against us tonight.