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Brian Tannehill Abe Preston grapples with his opponent Thursday night.

Things were looking eerily familiar when Wetumpka traveled to Oxford last Tuesday to square off with the Yellow Jackets in the AHSAA Class 6A Duals Championships semifinals For the second straight season, Wetumpka entered with high hopes but injuries and illnesses did it no favors as Oxford eliminated the Indians again, 43-25.

“I think we performed well,” Wetumpka coach Anthony Byrd said. “We just went up against some tough competition and they are a really good team. We were down a few kids which hurt us so it was a tough loss.”

Wetumpka was without starters Cameron Bowman (162 pounds) and Nathan Waters (197) which forced Byrd to make changes to the lineup. The ripple effect did not help Wetumpka as multiple wrestlers were pushed up a weight class and the team had to forfeit 197.

Despite being against the odds, Wetumpka went up ready to battle and Dawson Tadlock made sure his team came out on fire. Tadlock wasted very little time, earning a pin in 19 seconds at 134 to put Wetumpka ahead, 6-0.

“We went up there and really fought,” Byrd said. “They were ready to go. They hate to lose so they don’t underestimate anyone.”

Unfortunately for Wetumpka, Oxford was prepared for a big response. Oxford’s Chase Hicks handed Kyler Adams a 4-3 decision loss at 140. The Yellow Jackets kept the momentum going with a 4-2 decision victory from Kendrick Young against T.J. Anthony at 147. Oxford reeled off the next three victories to take a commanding 22-6 lead.

“It’s definitely tougher going up there and losing to the same team as they did last year,” Byrd said. “They really wanted it but they just came up short. Now it’s about not worrying about what could have happened. We want to use it as fuel.”

Mason Blackwell attempted to get momentum back for Wetumpka but he could not get a pin at 182. However, he still earned a 9-1 major decision.

After Oxford earned the forfeit win at 197, Wetumpka knew it was down to its final chances. Abe Preston fought to force sudden victory against Oxford’s Chanceton Holifield at 222 but after Preston needed a second injury time, Holifield quickly escaped to earn the winning point in a 6-5 decision.

“He really wrestled his best and gave it everything he had,” Byrd said. “I don’t think he felt too much pressure but he knew going into the match that we needed everyone to be at their best. He just came up short.”

Chad Strickland (108 pounds) and Jay Nowden (128) each earned pins with the match already decided while Xander McWilliams (122) won by a 9-1 major decision to round out Wetumpka’s points.

Wetumpka (24-1) wrapped up its duals season with two wins on the road Thursday night. Now, it turns its attention to the postseason as Wetumpka looks to win state in Huntsville. 

Byrd said the two-week break came at the right time so Wetumpka can get back to the basics in hopes of defending its South Sectional title. Byrd said the Indians do not want to linger on the loss to Oxford but it can be used as motivation.

“They are going to be even more hungry with that loss building up,” Byrd said. “We have to get back to work because we know it’s tough competition from here on out. We’re drilling conditioning and perfecting everything. There’s no reason to have to fight for motivation at this point.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.