Both Port Allegany qualifiers in last weekend’s PIAA Class AA Wrestling Championships showed they belonged in one of the toughest high school tournaments in the country, as brothers Bryent and Braedon Johnson each advanced to the blood round at the Giant Center in Hershey before concluding their journey one win shy of a spot on the medal stand.
“Pennsylvania is the best wrestling state in the nation. To be a blood-round loss, it sucks, but you’re still a really good wrestler if you get to that point,” Port coach B.J. Greenman said. “Having two state qualifiers is pretty awesome, and they’re at tough weights to be state qualifiers and to be state placewinners.”
“I’m happy with how we competed in some of those matches. I’m really proud of Bryent; he wrestled a really good tournament. I feel really bad for him that he doesn’t get to go home with a medal his senior year, but I think that he’ll be able to take from it that he wrestled his heart out and wrestled the best that he was possibly going to be able to wrestle.”
Bryent’s tournament began with a 6-3 setback to Littlestown junior Connor Brown, the eventual eighth-place finisher. Johnson was leading 3-1 late in the match when Brown caught him for a five-point move and the win.
Dropping into the consolation rounds, the Smethport senior made sure he’d be sticking around for Friday’s competition, earning a near-fall in the first period and then notching the pin at 2:36 over District 1/12 champion A.J. Stayton.
“Bry’s (first) match is one that I know is really frustrating to him, knowing that he had the match won. If he doesn’t get cradled at the end of it, then he wins the match,” Greenman said. “Just got ourselves into a bad position, got cradled and lost it. It kind of sucks, but it’s good that he bounced back and got a pin. That’s huge to come back out and not be too upset about it that you can’t wrestle well the next match. We need to just make it to the next day, reset our brains and figure it out from there.”
Braedon’s first match was against Southwest Region runner-up Tyler Cymmerman, the fifth-ranked 126-pounder in the state.
The Derry Area junior got the third-period pin, going on to place sixth. Like his brother, though, Johnson bounced back with near-fall points in a decisive 5-0 win over Damian George (Mount Pleasant) to move on in the wrestlebacks.
“I think that’s a winnable match, even though we got pinned,” Greenman said of the opener. “I mean, it is what it is. Once we gave up the 5 from feet to back, I think it kind of took the wind out of his sails, and then it was like, ‘Now I’ve got to make something big happen,’ and then you end up wrestling bad at that point. Up until that point he was right in the match. I think we were better on our feet, we were scoring in good positions, we just couldn’t capitalize on some of them. Some of the positions that Braedon’s been putting kids on their back all year, that kid was able to kind of squirm out on and we lost those positions.
“But that’s against a kid that’s ranked fourth or fifth in the state, so you can’t really be too upset about it,” he added. “His bracket, in my opinion, is probably one of the toughest ones here. You have two returning state champs (Ryan Crookham and Jackson Arrington), plus that kid (Cymmerman) placed, (Northwest champion) Connor Pierce placed. I think you have at least six or seven returning placers in the bracket, and you normally don’t see anywhere close to that. He’s up there with those kids, he’s right up there with anyone that’s going to be placing high.”
Both brothers picked up where they left off on Friday morning, with Bryent rallying from a 5-2 deficit for an 8-6 decision over Deegan Ross (Lackawanna Trail) and Braedon getting a sudden-victory takedown to outlast David Kreidler (Allentown CC).
That sent them into the ‘blood round,’ where a win guarantees a medal and a loss ends the season. Bryent’s opponent was Kai Burkett (Chestnut Ridge), the fourth-ranked 113-pounder in the state. Tied 2-2 going into the final period, Johnson fought through a scramble for a takedown and a 4-2 lead, but Burkett countered with an escape and a late takedown of his own for the 5-4 decision.
“Bry wrestled a heck of a match, probably one of the best matches he’s wrestled this year. Just came up short against kid that’s a returning fifth-placer. That’s what you have to do down here (to place), you’re going to have to beat really good kids, and we came up short with that one. Maybe we could’ve won it, we were wrestling really well up to the last takedown. Just one brain-lapse and give up a takedown at the end, and then your mind’s not right to be able to try to get out there,” Greenman said.
“But Bryent’s had a great career. Two-time state qualifier, a district champ and two-time runner-up, a really good wrestler. Had a lot of fun having him on the team these last two years. Wish I could’ve seen him get a medal for his senior year, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen.”
Asked for his thoughts on the tournament, the elder Johnson said, “My first match I definitely shouldn’t have lost. Pretty much had the match sealed, then shot in to try sealing it and didn’t come up to my feet quick enough. He got a cradle and locked it, and got two points near-fall, so I ended up losing that match.
“I came back and won after I got taken to my back, won 8-6, and then I came to another close one that I should’ve won. Just dumb mistakes. It was that close, to the fourth-ranked kid in the state, so it just shows you.”
A few minutes later, Brandywine Heights junior Noah Frack took advantage of a four-point first-period move to down Braedon, 9-0, ending the Smethport junior’s season.
“I just need to keep on my game more, get it out of my head, know that I’m just as good as pretty much anyone here,” he said afterward.
“Once I get ahead, I need to keep scoring. I didn’t do that in my first match, I tried to settle down, and it hurt me. Then in my blood-round match, I just wasn’t myself at all. Could’ve wrestled a lot better.”
“This year didn’t really go as I expected, I expected the season to go a lot better, but you’ve just got to learn from it and work off that toward next year. I know that not placing isn’t going to sit well with me, and this offseason I’m going to work to be on top of the podium.”
Including his freshman and sophomore years at Smethport, Bryent’s 90-25 career record ranks 18th on the PAHS wins list, while Braedon will carry an 82-16 mark into his senior season.
“I’m so glad I got the opportunity to wrestle at Port Allegany my last two years of high school,” Bryent said. “I think it helped me a lot. I wish it would’ve happened a lot sooner, because I think I would’ve been a lot better than I am right now. I just want to thank B.J. for helping me and my brother become a lot better than we were before we came to Port Allegany.”
Kane senior Teddy Race (eighth at 170) and Sheffield junior Ethan Finch (sixth at 182) were the lone Allegheny Mountain League medalists.
Elsewhere in District 9, Brookville senior Colby Whitehill won his second consecutive 285-pound title, with teammates Owen Reinsel (fourth at 113), Nathan Taylor (fourth at 220), and Cayden Walter (sixth at 106) also medaling along with Brockway’s Anthony Glasl (third at 132) and Eric Johnson (seventh at 195) and Curwensville’s Zach Holland (sixth at 138).