It nearly got away -- but just when he needed to be great, Dylan Kavanaugh performed with flair and earned a Section III Division I wrestling championship at 119 pounds.
All of it unfolded Saturday night at Utica Memorial Auditorium, where the Red Devils, as a whole, excelled with 118 points, taking third place among the large schools. Only Fulton (175 points) and Indian River (171.5 points) fared better.
Kavanaugh, the top seed at 119, faced battles all day, holding off Dylan Lincoln (Carthage) 3-0 and barely getting through Jamesville-DeWitt/CBA newcomer J.T. Romagnoli in a tense 4-3 semifinal match.
Now came the final, against Rome Free Academy's Antonio DeLuco, who was the Most Outstanding Wrestler at the Class AA meet a week earlier.
Two different violations, plus an escape, left Kavanaugh behind 3-0 going into the third period. But Kavanaugh made his own escape to get on the board, then got a dramatic takedown in the final seconds of regulation to force overtime at 3-3.
Not wasting any time in the OT, Kavanaugh took down DeLuco and won the match, 5-3, advancing to the Feb. 26-27 state meet at Times Union Center in Albany with a 35-4 record.
Two other local wrestlers nearly made it to Albany, too. Chittenango sophomore Wes Blanding, the no. 2 seed at 130 pounds, beat Kiel Dyer (Cicero-North Syracuse) 6-2 and VVS star Dan Walts 3-2 to reach the final against CNS's Patrick Dyer, Kiel's older brother.
Through three periods and two overtimes, the two wrestlers remained stuck at 2-2. Only when Dyer refused to let Blanding escape in a 30-second tie-breaker did the Bears' star take a painful 3-2 defeat. Blanding's record this season is 36-4, which could help him earn a wild-card berth in the state meet.
Walts, a senior, recovered to finish third, beating Shayne Brady (Carthage) 2-0 in the consolation bracket final, and also took home a $500 scholarship from the Central New York Wrestling Officials' Association for his contributions to the sport.