HERSHEY — Jake Taylor went out on top.
Literally and figuratively.
The Bald Eagle Area senior used a gutsy call and a grueling, 30-second rideout in an ultimate tiebreaker period to beat Norristown's Brett Harner 2-1 and win the PIAA Class AAA 182-pound championship on Saturday night at the Giant Center.
“You dream about it ever since you started wrestling, since you started coming and watching the finals,” Taylor said. “It is great to finally be there myself.”
Taylor’s thrilling title win was the 10th individual championship for the Eagles, and second for the Taylor family in 25 years. His father, Doug, won the 126-pound title in 1988.
It came in thrilling fashion in front of an electric crowd. Neither wrestler found much success mounting his offense. Although Harner got close to finishing a second period takedown, officials ruled the two had gone out of bounds, and ordered a reset to the dismay of Norristown fans.
They heckled the officials the rest of the way, as Taylor looked for a counter takedown through the second and third periods. Finally, after six periods failed to yield a winner, Taylor got the choice and chose top to start the ultimate tiebreaker — meaning he’d have to hold Harner — a broad-shouldered brut,e who entered the finals with a 190-23 career record — down for 30 seconds.
“That’s not usually my go-to,” Taylor said of his choice. “But he was doing a good job of staying on my ankle, not letting me out. I didn’t want to let my state championship come down to a stall call.”
And it wouldn’t.
Harner battled up to his knees and to his feet, but Taylor held on to keep control. As the seconds ticked away, Taylor — who had remained stoic, patient and emotionless for much of the three-day tournament — was overcome by emotion.
He pumped his fists and hugged his coaches, one of which was his father, who sat in his corner for his final two bouts. Before his son’s final high school bout, Doug Taylor took a similar approach to teammates who are playing with a pitcher throwing a no-hitter.
He left his son alone. Afterward, the two shared a long embrace before Taylor got his championship medal.
“It was an absolute delight coming through that when I did it, when it was my journey so to speak,” Doug Taylor said. “I didn’t do that much with his. He took his journey on his own. It was just as special watching him in a different way than doing it myself.
“I can tell you, I was a hell of a lot more nervous for that one than I was for mine.”
Taylor, who has committed to wrestle for Cornell, didn’t choose top on a whim. He had past experience against Harner in the exact same situation to rely on. But although Taylor beat Harner twice this season in ultimate tiebreakers before Saturday’s third showdown, he never chose top in the previous two bouts.
Rather, Harner chose bottom. Taylor just held him down both times.
“At that point, state title’s on the line and it’s what he feels and it’s what he wants to do,” BEA head coach Steve Millward said.
“That was basically our feeling in the corner. He’ll know what he wants to do.”
Taylor knew he wanted to win at all costs, even if that included not being able to follow through on his initial game plan to be ultra-aggressive.
Before Saturday’s final, Taylor posted a fall in the preliminary round, a 3-2 win in the quarters and a 7-2 victory in the semis to get to the championship.
“You come into the tournament with the goal to win the tournament,” Taylor said. “The first round’s not as big of a deal as winning the finals, so I guess finally achieving the goal would be where that emotion came from.”
After Taylor was presented with his medal, his teammate, Nate Sharkey received his seventh-place medal at 220 pounds when Canon-McMillan’s Alex Campbell forfeited to him in the penultimate consolation bout of the night.
“Lately, he’s just been wrestling great for us,” Millward said of Sharkey. “He needs to take the credit for that. He was determined at the end of this year to come down and make it to Hershey and he wanted to be on that medal stand and you could see just over the qualifying tournaments how well he wrestled in every match.”
Taylor ended his career with a 127-16 record while Sharkey, also a senior, went 31-7 in his final campaign. Bald Eagle Area finished 13th in the Class AAA team standings with 31 points.
They, along with Aaron Varner, who also qualified but didn’t place, are now headed back to Wingate, where a party is already set for Sunday afternoon.
“They already made the plans,” Doug Taylor said.
“Everybody’s coming over. We’re going to eat pizza and watch the film.”