Once again it was a two-team race Saturday as defending champion Grant and archrival Libertyville battled it out for the North Suburban Conference wrestling championship.
The Bulldogs held a slim 9-point advantage over Libertyville heading into the second day of the 57th annual league meet, held at Stevenson. But the Wildcats turned the tables in the semifinal round to win 223.5 to 211.5 over Grant.
The victory marked the fourth NSC crown in five years for Libertyville, and its 19th overall. It looks like No. 20 is a strong possibility next year, with the abundance of young talent on the Wildcats roster.
"We had a great semifinal round with eight guys reaching the finals, and that won it for us," said Libertyville coach Dale Eggert, whose team is at the Grant regional next weekend. "It was just a great battle today, and I'm glad we somehow came out on top."
Both the Wildcats and Grant had 11 wrestlers reach the final round, but the Bulldogs only had six individuals competing in first-place matches.
"Right now they're just more solid than we are, but we had a chance and that's all we can ask for," said Grant coach Ryan Geist. "They don't give championships away, we've got to take it and there are a lot of tough teams in our regional."
Warren was a distant third with 148.5 points followed by Lake Zurich (132 points) in fourth, and the host Patriots (99 points) in sixth.
Libertyville was led by two-time NSC champ Steve Polakowski (34-4), who won the 120-pound title with an 8-2 decision over Grant's Troy Parent.
The Wildcats also got crowns from No. 4-ranked junior Kayne MacCallum (35-2) at 160 and junior teammate Chris McDermand with a 3-2 overtime decision over Grant's Dan Haeffele at 285.
The Bulldogs' Noah Drabek (31-8) posted a 6-2 decision over Warren's Craig Mason for first place at 126 while teammate Jared Lalanda (30-6) won the 182-pound title with a 4-3 decision over Stevenson's Ned Valtchev.
Warren's Danny Hicks overcame a 5-2 deficit to edge Libertyville's Austin Koziol 6-5 for the 170-pound crown while Lake Zurich had a great day individually with three champions.
Brandon Arteaga (32-4) got the Bears going with an 8-3 decision over Grant's Nick Fanella for the 138-pound title.
Lake Zurich's Sean Lynch (15-3) toppled Libertyville's Sal Ayala 9-3 for first at 152 before teammate Alex Zurawski defeated the Wildcats' Mark Dunsing 7-2 for first at 195.
"It's been a great tournament for Brandon (Arteaga) and he's wrestling really well right now," said Lake Zurich coach Dan Strickler. "Sean (Lynch) has a limited number of matches after coming back from football and being hurt, and I'm expecting him to be back at state."
Third-ranked Stevenson 145-pounder Justin Weber (33-2) beat Libertyville's No. 5-ranked Austin Pettinato 9-3 for the championship and his second NSC title.
"I look forward to every day in practice and I'm always excited to get on the mat and get better," said Weber, who will wrestle at Wisconsin. "I'm pushing the pace, my weight is good, and everything is under control."
Antioch's Mike Gussarson (32-8) was also a two-time winner Saturday as he won by injury default in 27 seconds over previously undefeated Abel Rios (26-1) of Zion-Benton in a tough 132-pound weight class.
"I wrestled a good tournament, and I would have liked it better if I would have finished off that finals match," said Gussarson, a two-time state qualifier in Class 2A. "It feels good since this was probably the hardest weight class, I would say, and I've been wrestling pretty well the past two weeks."
Third-ranked Wauconda 220-pounder Nate Magiera (29-0) remained undefeated with a 7-3 decision over Libertyville's Kevin Barbian in the title bout.
"I'm pretty happy overall, and Kevin (Barbian) is a great kid," said Magiera, who is a two-time state qualifier. "My goal is first to win the regional, then sectional and state. But I have to take it one step at a time, and be aggressive with mistake-free wrestling."
Second-ranked Vernon Hills 106-pounder Jordan Reich (33-4) became a champion with a 4-3 decision over Zion-Benton's Anthony Munoz.
"It was close, but he (Reich) has wrestled enough to find a way to win and mentally he's got confidence now," said Vernon Hills coach Jerry Micelli. "Right now he has the mindset that he's going downstate, he's going to do something, and he can do it."
Grant's Gage Datlovsky (113) placed second after a tough 2-1 loss to Z-B's Noey Carrillo.
Third-place winners were Grant's Nick Koch (106), Round Lake's Danny Arteaga (113), Warren's Martin Martinez (120), Antioch's Chris Ruth (126), Warren's Israel Santiago (132), Mundelein's Joey Laurie (138), Lakes' Kavan Mulloy (145), Mundelein's Jake Long (152), Lakes' David Gregory (160), Libertyville's Joey Nield (182), Antioch's Julio Ramirez (195), Grant's Connor Haran (220), and Warren's Sawyer McCaffrey (285).