South Western High junior Brandon Huff has waited a year for Thursday night's home wrestling match against Spring Grove. The Mustangs had to forfeit his 120-pound bout to end a 33-28 loss to the Rockets.
Huff, who had undergone surgery to repair a broken bone in his left arm, still carries the image of Mustangs coach Brad Zeigler raising his hand to indicate a forfeit. Huff's backup was out with a broken right leg.
"It was hard to watch (Zeigler) walk out on the mat with his hand raised," said Huff, who weighed in and was dressed to wrestle that day. "I could've won or made it close at least. I almost went out, but I wasn't cleared. I took a step and they were like, 'Wait a second.' It was heartbreaking."
Thursday's match, which starts at 7 p.m., has significant implications for both teams. The winner earns the YAIAA Division I championship. A loss could also give the ninth-seeded Mustangs a perilous District 3 Class AAA team tournament opening-round match or knock them out of contention.
"I'm just happy I can wrestle this year without having any of those setbacks," Huff said. "It's going to be more of an emotional thing. It's going to make my whole season if we can win this match. It's going to probably be one of the most exciting nights that I've had in a while."
But they enter as admitted underdogs.
"On paper, it's not in our favor," Zeigler said. "We had a meeting and I told them, 'We're not supposed to win this match. They're too deep, too technical, too strong. Here's the great thing: We're underdogs, we have nothing to lose.' When you're expected to lose, it gives our kids that drive."
Added Dallastown coach Matt Striebig, whose Wildcats has lost to both teams this season: "Spring Grove has no holes. That's hard to beat. I think South Western would have to give a Herculean effort to (win)."
The Rockets are hoping for another division championship, which would be their fifth in the last six years. They are the fourth seed in the district -- the top four team tournament finishers advance to the state tournament -- and a win could move them further up.
"Our kids, for them it's a matter of finishing their season off," Rockets coach Tony Miller said. "It's important to win the season. It's very important we win Thursday night and continue moving."
Neither team's strength matches with the other.
PA Power Wrestling has ranked the Rockets' 120-, 132-, 145- and 220-pounders and the Mustangs' 106-, 220- and 285-pounders.
"They have real quality heavyweights," Miller said. "They're real good down on the bottom. Their top two and bottom three are comparable to anyone out there. It could look like (last season) again and be close again."
firstname.lastname@example.org; 717-637-3736, extension 139; Twitter: @DanielPaulling