‘Nitpicking’ official costs Davie High wrestler a chance at state title

Published 11:55 am Tuesday, February 28, 2023

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By Brian Pitts

Enterprise Record

Hunter Testa was on a mission to become the 13th War Eagle to win a wrestling state championship. He was 46-0 as he took on Lumberton’s Jackson Buck in the 182 state semifinals.

But his quest was stopped in the most excruciating fashion imaginable. With the score 2-2 and 65 seconds remaining in the third period, the referee hit Testa with four straight cautions. That was quite simply the difference as Testa suffered a 6-4 loss.

That is how fast it can happen. The cautions changed the match. They also changed Testa’s junior season. He wound up settling for the bronze medal.

From the perspective of Davie coaches and fans, Testa was hosed. In their eyes, his one loss in 49 matches will forever have an asterisk.

“It’s hard for me to get over what happened (in the semifinals), with the official calling those cautions like he did,” coach Perry Long said. “I wasn’t really worried about (the first one), but the guy kept calling them.”

The state tournament was held at the Greensboro Coliseum Feb. 16-18.

In the first two rounds, Testa didn’t mess around. He pinned Pine Forest senior Mathias Winston, and then he pounded out a technical fall over Alexander Central junior Nate Dahlstrom.

That matched the 46-0 Testa against Buck, the Lumberton junior who was also riding high at 47-1, in the semifinals. With the score 2-2 late in the third, this had down-to-the-wire drama written all over it. But instead of two explosive wrestlers slugging it out to the end, the official took over. From the first caution violation to the fourth, the clock stayed at 1:05 – but the score changed from 2-2 to 5-2 in Buck’s favor.

Fans fumed at the calls. It was incredibly frustrating because a two-point lead in that kind of match, with that amount of time remaining, put Testa’s back firmly against the wall.

Long said it’s not uncommon to see one caution called, but he said it’s rare to see it happen multiple times.

“He said Hunter didn’t have his hand on the elbow,” Long said. “Then he said Hunter didn’t have his hand on the belly button. He was just nit-picking him.”

The first caution? “The guy moved on bottom and he said Hunter made a move and he called Hunter for a caution,” Long said. “That’s just a warning.”

The second caution gave Buck a 3-2 lead. “Hunter gets set again and he said Hunter’s not covering the elbow. That’s one point.”

It got bad, then worse, then worst.

“Then he said Hunter had a tight waist (for the third caution),” Long said. “He gave (Buck) another point.

“Now we’re going to let him up and (try to) take him down because now (Buck’s) up by two. So we said let him up. Hunter tells the official optional start. That’s no problem; Hunter’s going to let him get to his feet. When Hunter tells him optional start, Hunter puts his hands on (Buck’s) back and the ref said he didn’t have time to tell the other kid it was optional start. So he hits him with a caution again and gave (Buck) another point. Now we’re down three. I’d never seen anything like it.”

By this point, tensions are boiling over. From here, Buck had a relatively easy path to the finals. Long watched in disbelief. When it was over, he had a conversation with Cecil Mock, the Assistant Commissioner of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, to vent his angry feelings.

“You never go to the table for cautions,” Long said. “It would be unsportsmanlike and then I can’t question another call. It’s frustrating. Cecil Mock said: ‘You handled it the right way because those are judgement calls.’ I can’t see if his hand is completely on the elbow. I can’t see if he’s completely on the belly button.”

To Testa’s credit, he had the perseverance to come back and get third. In the consolation semifinals, he beat Hickory Ridge senior Kyle Perry 5-2. In the consolation finals, he beat Mooresville junior Johnny Merriman 7-4.

Despite the bitter loss, Testa still had one of the most impressive seasons you’ll see. He went 48-1 and finished third at 182 for the second year in a row.

“He did what he was supposed to do (in the consolations),” Long said. “I love Testa to death. I’m glad he came back and finished third. He should have been in the finals. It’s disappointing for an official to take that from him.”

Notes: Testa’s gaudy figures include a 110-7 career record and the No. 3 winning percentage in Davie history. Scotty Spry, who went 101-3 from 1992-95, and Neil Cornatzer, who went 106-4 from 1993-96, hold the top two marks at .971 and .964, respectively. Testa is currently next at .940. … Buck wound up second as he was pinned by Laney senior Alex Hopper, who finished 49-1.