DENVER - For seniors Trenton Gustafson and Ryan Daves, Saturday night was a sad ending.
The two Montezuma-Cortez High School wrestlers were each on the wrong end of 2-point decisions in the 138- and-182-pound Class 4A state finals.
After the heartbreaking setbacks, reality set in. Those matches were the final time the storied seniors would wrestle for M-CHS.
"It's a big accomplishment. Since my freshmen year, I didn't even get to a match to be able to qualify for state finals," Gustafson said. "It's something I thought I'd never be in."
Gustafson and Daves have nothing to hang their heads over. They helped spearhead one of the better state finishes in recent memory for the Panthers.
M-CHS finished eighth out of 50 teams at the Colorado High School Activities Association 4A State Championships on Saturday at the Pepsi Center.
The Panthers totaled 61 points to place the highest out of any Western Slope school, thanks in large part to three grapplers making the finals. Five competed at state in total.
Sophomore Seager Oliver shocked the classification by beating three seniors en route to the 160-pound finals. He faced senior Francisco Marquez of Thompson Valley for the second time in as many weeks.
Even though it was a surprise to many that Oliver made the finals, to him, it wasn't. Oliver wasn't just happy to be there, he expected to be there and expected to win.
But facing the No. 1-seed, Marquez (42-3) would get the better of Oliver again. The two went the distance with the Cortez youngster coming up short, 7-2.
"I wrestled the best I could," Oliver said.
Being just a sophomore, the sky's the limit for the former Colorado state middle school champion. Oliver (34-7), though, isn't into moral victories.
"I'm definitely going to be here next year," he said. "It's going to be a different year. Just training in the offseason and keep going."
Despite a 33-3 record and being a regional champ going into the state tournament, Gustafson felt slighted by the CHSAA selection committee when he was seeded eighth at 182s.
Gustafson answered those critics, bullying his way through the bracket and into Saturday's finals against No. 1-seed Kyle Couch of Mead.
The two similar in stature, strong-willed competitors battled for six minutes in a match that could have gone either way.
Gustafson struck first with a takedown to grab a 2-0 lead, but Couch escaped to cut it to 2-1. The men jockeyed for position before Couch scored a takedown late in the first period to take the lead at 3-2.
Couch added another escape in the second. It later appeared that Gustafson scored a takedown, but the referees ruled that Gustafson didn't have established control. The score remained 4-2 Couch at the end of two.
"It could have went either way," Panthers coach Eric Smith said. "I was trying to get at least an opinion from the outside judge to see if he saw something differently. If we would have got it, it's a 4-4 match."
Couch didn't budge in the final period, securing the 4-2 victory to up his season record to 44-1.
"It basically came down to who wanted it more," Gustafson said.
Gustafson (36-4) said he plans to walk on to play football at Adams State in Alamosa next fall. The first-team 3A Western Slope League football player hopes to earn a scholarship on the defensive side of the ball.
"They really got a lot of encouragement. They really push me to be a better person and push me as hard as I can go," said Gustafson about the Grizzlies' coaching staff.
Sophomores Levi Gross (22-10) and Justice Ramos (19-16) qualified for state and were eliminated after one match at 120 and 145. With three state returners back next season, the future of Panthers wrestling is looking good.
"I was pleased," Smith said. "It's hard to get three guys there and not get one through (in first-place), but it is what it is. I'm proud of the boys. They worked hard and they earned it."
Broomfield won the team state championship with 140.5 points. Last year's state champion, Windsor, placed third with 129 points.