In the 51 years of the Litchfield High School wrestling program, the Panthers have accomplished a lot: seven regional titles, two team state trophies, 20 individual medalists and seven runner-up finishes at state. What the Panthers didn’t have was a state champion...until now.
On Saturday, Feb. 22, Will Carlile put the finishing touches on an unforgettable 41 win, zero loss season with a 2-0 victory over Ethen Doty of West Carroll in the Class 1A 132-pound championship match to become Litchfield’s first state champion.
“I feel amazing. Words can’t explain it,” a still euphoric Carlile said after the match. “It’s been my goal to just make it to the finals, let alone win the whole thing.”
The match itself was fitting of a state title, with the two wrestlers battling it out to a 0-0 draw for all but the last few seconds of the third period.
Both Carlile and Doty would shake off shot attempts and try to get the upper hand through the first two periods, but neither gave an inch. When the third period came around, Doty chose bottom, which surprised Carlile.
“Doty’s really strong on top and it was surprising that he didn’t choose top and try to turn me,” the Litchfield junior said. “My weakest point is me on top and I just had to fight through it, either let him up and try to get a takedown, or hold him down.”
Carlile chose the latter and after a few close calls, he had the chance to talk the decision over with his coaches, Chance Davidson and Coy Davidson.
“We asked Will if he wanted to cut him, give him a point and try to take him down or do you want to ride him out. Will said ‘I got it. I’ll ride it out,” and he did,” Chance Davidson said of their talk with Carlile during a break to remedy Doty’s bloody nose. “With 18 seconds left, we were looking at each other and weren’t sure what was going to happen.”
What happened was what separates champions from everyone else. After the restart, with Doty wearing down, Carlile saw his opportunity and hit a suck back, grabbing Doty by the neck and forcing him backwards to the mat, which led to a two-point nearfall in the matches final seconds.
“That’s not really a move we taught Will, and I’m not really sure anyone ever has, but we’ve seen him do it about 50 times this year,” Coy Davidson said. “As soon as he got into position, we could kind of tell that’s what he was going for.”
“He had been trying to hit it the whole third period,” added Chance Davidson. “And Doty gave him too many attempts at it. Will kept at it and pulled it off.”
For Carlile, the move was the payoff for hundreds of hours of work inside the wrestling room and outside of it.
“I train all year round to be the best, have the biggest lungs and he got tired,” said Carlile. “I took advantage of it on top and all of that hard work helped me pull through it.”
Carlile’s journey to the state title was nearly as impressive as its conclusion. Between state and last week at the Vandalia Sectional, Carlile defeated all five of the other wrestlers on the state medal podium, including two former state champions.
After beating Austin McConaha of Monticello (fifth place) and Dayton Hall of Mt. Carmel (sixth place) to win last week’s sectional at Vandalia, Carlile got things started with a win by fall over Joe Lashuay of Oakwood in the opening round. Carlile was in control for much of the match and set the tone for the weekend with the pin, which came in the final nine seconds of the match.
Carlile would face Lena-Winslow’s Marey Roby (fourth place) in the quarterfinals in Champaign on Thursday night, a rematch of the championship of the Rich Lovellette Invitational in Litchfield, where the junior picked up a 3-2 win. This time, Carlile left no doubt in the decision, picking up a 9-2 victory to advance to the semifinals.
The next obstacle between Carlile and a state title was Gabe Spencer of Heyworth (third place), who won the championship at 120 pounds the year before. Again, Carlile would come up big, holding on for a 3-2 victory and berth in the state championship.
The win over Heyworth not only gave Carlile a shot at last year’s 126-pound champion and a state title, it also allowed both he and his coach to experience the Grand March for the first time.
“Being with Will down there, it was so much fun, said Chance Davidson, who had finished fourth twice at state during his wrestling career at Litchfield. “It was a great experience seeing all of the lights and everything from down here. It was awesome.”
For Coy Davidson, who had experienced the Grand March first hand twice, it was just as moving.
“I had tears in my eyes watching from the tunnel,” the younger of the two Davidson brothers said. “I was just so proud of Will, and Chance too.”
More tears would come after the match, this time from Carlile, who is nearly as stoic and calculated on the mats as his coaches were when they wrestled.
“I honestly couldn’t have done it without Chance and Coy,” Carlile said. “They’re way more than just coaches and I couldn’t have done it without them.”
And the opposite is the same. Of Litchfield’s seven runner-up finishes, six have come from members of the Davidson family: Coy twice, Thad Davidson twice, Jake Davidson once and Colin Davidson once (Kevin Doyle in 1981 is the only outlier). The win wasn’t just Litchfield’s first title, it was fulfillment of decades of hard work put in by the Davidson family.
Ultimately though, the day belonged to everyone, the Davidsons, the Litchfield wrestling community and of course, Carlile.
“He beat two state champions in the same tournament to become Litchfield’s first champion,” Chance Davidson said of Carlile, who broke his coach’s record for most consecutive wins. “I think, at this point, his season speaks for itself.”
Feb. 20-22 at Champaign
Class 1A State Wrestling
132: Will Carlile (41-0) - def. Joe Lashuay (Oakwood) by fall at 5:51; def. Marey Roby (Lena-Winslow) by dec. 9-2; def. Gabe Spencer (Heyworth) by dec. 3-2; def. Ethen Doty (West Carroll) by dec. 2-0 to win state championship