CHAMPAIGN -- Dundee-Crown assistant Matt Wahl said Christian Brunner he was a year away from greatness.
Chargers' head coach Robert Skillman added his super sophomore was on a the cusp of something special.
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The Chargers' duo probably won't mind being a little off with their predictions now that their top man became the man the stars at 182 pounds should fear.
Brunner (43-4), the only unseeded player in the quarterfinals, would first stun No. 6 Jimmy Mickens (Mt. Carmel, 36-9) Friday afternoon, then shock No. 1 Alex Benoit (38-3) of Marist in an OT tiebreaker in the semifinals to advance into tonight's state final against No. 2 Colton Emmerich (46-1) of Deerfield in a rematch of the sectional final last weekend in Barrington.
"There's a part of me that doesn't believe Christian is in the Grand March but another part of me says why not? He just outworked everybody here this weekend, just as he has in the postseason and he showed he belongs in that final with Colton," said a thrilled Wahl, who watched as the Chargers' star fielded questions from a hoard of reporters, many of whom had no idea just who he was before this weekend.
"It is kind of hard to believe, but I've gone out there like it's no big deal, because I always felt deep down I could compete at this level, and when I had the chance to do so I just worked and worked, and never stopped until my matches were over," Brunner said.
Brunner, who trailed in each of his matches here at State Farm Center. felt a little nervous when the top-seeded Benoit took an early 5-2 lead, but that was soon to be erased when an escape and takedown brought him back even to set up an unexpected finish, one in which the fans roared their approval when his work rate bettered the Marist veteran, who had no answer for the game-winning takedown.
"I never doubted myself, and I still felt strong in overtime, and now I get to face my friend (Emmerich) for the fifth time this season, with a chance at a state title," said Brunner, who will look to become only the third state champion in program history, after Mike Lukowski ran the table in 2008, much like Brunner has thus far, recording one upset after another to eventually hoist the big trophy.
The news wasn't as good around the rest of the Fox Valley Conference after a trio of defeats to some of the league's best sent them into the consolation bracket today, with a chance at a top three finish.
The most staggering result came at 138 pounds when No. 2 Nick Gil (Crystal Lake South, 42-2) was upended by No. 3 Mario Leveille (31-7) of Marist (4-2) in the semifinals, thus ending what many had expected to be a final between Gil and No. 1 Walter White Jr. (36-4) of Oak Park-River Forest.
"Under the big dome in Champaign, and in the atmosphere of a state tournament, sometimes things happen, and fortunately for me it happened to me," said Leveille, who later would advance into the finals against White.
"Nick is so strong, and his position is just great, but when I got up on him, and just did the right things to stay in front the rest of the way," said the Marist senior.
Gil's teammate, Eric Barone (145), appeared to be on the verge of putting a dent into the championship dreams of No. 1 Larry Early III (OPRF, 34-7) while boosting his chances until a handful of confusing calls by the official in the third period, and next four extra sessions gave Early a controversial 4-3 victory.
The No. 10 rated Barone (40-5) gave the 2013 state runner-up (at 145 pounds) all he could handle through regulation (where it was tied 1-1) and as each extra period was finished until a questionable reversal by Early gave him the lead with 11 seconds remaining in the third OT period. But with no time left on the clock, Barone sent the OPRF star reeling with an escape to push the semifinal to into an ultimate tiebreaker situation, in which Early was awarded the game-winning point when he held onto the Gators' junior long enough until the final whistle was blown.
"I was beat, and had little life left in me, and as far as the calls by the official I don't know, but what I do know is I have no control over them either way so I just kept wrestling until he said it was over," said Early.
Cary-Grove junior Michael Cullen's hopes of reaching the biggest match of his prep career were dashed when No. 1 Kris Williams (Thornwood) dealt the Trojans' star a heartbreaking 3-2 semifinal loss at 120 pounds.
Williams (30-0), who two years ago beat Cullen (27-5) in the semifinals, used an early first period takedown to go in front, then an escape with 20 seconds from time to hold off any later heroics from Cullen.
"Williams got off to a good start with that takedown, and it allowed him to play good defense, and slow things down a little bit in order to keep the pace to his advantage," said Cullen, who will come back today in search of his third straight state medal.
"It's a tough loss, but I've got to regroup and get ready for (today) -- it's that simple."
Cary-Grove's Logan Hanselman (126, 29-9) and Larkin senior Duke Bogicevic (126, 37-6) each saw their brilliant careers end after consolation losses, as did Dundee-Crown heavyweight, Jeremy Marshall, who bowed out with a sparkling 41-8 record in his final year with the Chargers.
Wiley Allen (29-15) who took the spot of Jeffery Morrow (Grayslake Central) at 120 pounds when he wasn't able to go this weekend, is taking full advantage of his golden opportunity, after winning his first consolation bout to stay alive in the medal hunt at 120 pounds.