NORTH BALTIMORE - When it came time to hand out awards to the 195-pounders Saturday at the Midland Athletic League Championships, there was the briefest pause.
Calvert assistant coach Rick Brodman had just given awards to Fremont St. Joe's Jake Widman for third and North Baltimore's Dalton Ishmael for second, but the podium's top step remained empty. However, Ishmael and Widman reached out and held the remaining plaque for champion Daniel Kwiat of Calvert while parents and fans snapped their picture.
Kwiat had earned his fourth consecutive MAL title a short time earlier, but it came at a price. The senior had his neck injured during a throw by Ishmael that officials said involved an illegal hold.
"There was no malice, there was no intentional move on (Ishmael's) part, there's no animosity toward Ishmael or North Baltimore," Calvert coach Keven Rinaman said later during a telephone interview. "It was just a freak accident.
"As soon as we got over there, we knew something was wrong," he said.
The injury occurred with 23.7 seconds left in a scoreless first period of the day's premier bout. Ishmael entered unbeaten after taking third at state at 195 pounds last year, while Kwiat finished fifth at state last year at the same weight and lost 6-4 earlier this year to Ishmael.
The pair went back and forth in Saturday's title match, with Ishmael locking up with Kwiat and throwing the Seneca senior to the mat just outside the outer ring.
The primary official awarded Ishmael two takedown points, but the secondary official saw otherwise, saying Ishmael used an illegal hold on the throw. He said Ishmael legally had his hands clasped on Kwiat's side at the start of the throw, but they illegally shifted to the middle of Kwiat's back during the throw.
After consulting, the officials waved off the takedown points and awarded Kwiat a penalty point.
Meanwhile, Kwiat tried to roll over to get up and couldn't, so he began patting his chest with one hand and signaling to his coaches with the other.
Coaches and medical personnel quickly moved in to help. Kwiat tried to sit up with assistance after that, but grimaced with pain and was lowered back to the mat.
As the minutes ticked by, Calvert teammates, coaches and family gathered around him, offering words of support amid tears while an ambulance was called.
Ishmael also joined the group briefly to speak with Kwiat, later saying he at first was unaware of how serious the injury was and hoped Kwiat would be able to continue.
"I was hoping he'd get up and finish the match," Ishmael said. "I was so pumped because I actually put him to his back ... . I knew I could do it again. I had a lot more energy against him and confidence when I was wrestling against him. But unfortunately he couldn't get back up and I wasn't able to do that."
Kwiat, with his head and neck immobilized, was ultimately wheeled away. He was originally taken to Wood County Hospital in Bowling Green before being transferred to Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center in Toledo.
Rinaman said Kwiat was in a lot of pain Saturday night, but also in good spirits.
"No broken bones or anything. He still has movement in his arms and legs and everything," Rinaman said.
Since the injury occurred as the result of an illegal hold, Ishmael was disqualified and Kwiat was awarded the win for his fourth consecutive MAL title.
"That's a little bit of a solace," Rinaman said of Kwiat's fourth league crown. "Neither of his older brothers got it, and with the way the MAL is going (the league disbands after the 2013-14 season), his younger brother won't get it either. Small victory."
The race for the team title lacked the same kind of drama.
Carey beat Hopewell-Loudon 158 1/2-129 1/2 for its third championship in as many years after rolling up a 125 1/2-83 lead over the Chieftains heading into the final round.
Numbers helped both, with each team sending 11 wrestlers to the mats while no other league team had more than seven.
But talent also played a role. Five of the eight Blue Devils who reached the finals won championships, with two more earning thirds and another taking fourth.
And with the the big lead heading into finals, Carey coach Ryan Pratt said he knew the title was basically locked up.
"I figured it was pretty much out of reach then, nobody was going to catch us. We had a 50-point lead, basically, going into finals, that was huge," he said. "I knew in my head the number of wrestlers they had in [remaining]. They had one that was beat out and we had none [eliminated], so they were down to 10 wrestlers and we had 11 still in the top four [as placers]."
Brayden Leist and Tyler Higgins gave Carey back-to-back crowns at 132 and 138 pounds, with Cody Ferguson (152), Lincoln Stansberry (182) and Jacob Moran (285) also finishing first.
Of those five, only Higgins' match ended close, with him edging Lakota's Andrew Bickford 9-7.
Leist scored a 16-1 technical fall over Fremont St. Joe's Sean Vasquez, Ferguson had a 15-4 major decision over H-L's Zach Clouse, Stansberry rolled to an 18-2 tech fall over Seneca East's Marshall Lucius, and Moran stuck North Baltimore's Brice Bankey in 1:07.
Carey's seconds came from Zack Brodman falling 8-2 to Mohawk 145-pounder Alex Hoerig, Bryce Mullholand getting pinned by Mohawk 170-pounder Grant Price (1:36), and Marcus O'Flaherty getting pinned by Fremont St. Joe 220-pounder Corey Durbin (2:59).
Kyler Dyer (120) and Austin Tschanen (160) added thirds for the Blue Devils and Zack Sauber (195) took fourth.
"Kind of established now [as a program]," said Pratt, who was also named the MAL's top coach. "I've got a great group of coaches. I had five champions last year and I have five champions this year, and I had all five of my assistant coaches pass out awards just to show them that it's not just me. I'm not the only one who does it, I need help, too, and they're going to back me up in everything.
"I've seen improvement in the kids the entire season," he said. "It's not like we're putting it on cruise control, we're sticking to our guns, getting better every day in practice."
Hopewell-Loudon ended with three champions, two runners-up and five thirds.
The effort bumped the Chieftains from last year's sixth-place finish to this year's runner-up, but it also left them short of their potential, coach Travis Traxler said.
"I think we need to have kids performing to their utmost potential. We didn't do that. Congratulations to Carey, they did a nice job, but we need to execute," he said. "We have a young team, we only have one senior, and this is hopefully a building block.
"Our expectation is to win. We understand that doesn't always happen. Carey was the favorite coming in. They finished at the top, but we wanted to," he said. "Looking back, it's not a result we're happy with, but certainly something we can learn from and get better from."
The titles came from 120-pounder Daimon Vitt nipping St. Wendelin's Cole Williams 9-7, Alex Brock pinning Lakota 126-pounder Caleb Tolento (3:12) and 160-pounder Zac Hrabak blanking Mohawk's Austin Kelbley 15-0.
Chet Swartzmiller joined Clouse as a runner-up for H-L, falling 16-0 to Calvert's John Brodman in the 113-pound title match.
Bernie Somers (106), Dakota Magers (138), Tristan Myers (145), Elijah Bustillos (182) and Coltan Hossler (285) all ended third for H-L.
Mohawk finished third in the team standings with 93 points, while Calvert's four-man team held off Seneca East 56 1/2-51 for fourth. Lakota ended sixth (50 1/2), followed by St. Joe (49), North Baltimore (37) and St. Wendelin (12).
Seneca East's Jeffrey Shook pinned Calvert's Cody Kuhn (2:54) for the 106-pound crown.
Price was also named the MAL's top wrestler.