DENVER — The chorus of boos was inevitable.
Phil Downing may not be the most likable guy on the mat and he may not have endeared himself to the wrestling faithful at the Pepsi Center over the years – especially on Friday night.
But you know what? He doesn’t care.
“I knew the crowd was going to be against me,” he said. “So I wanted to prove them wrong and show them who the true champion was.”
On Saturday night, the Broomfield senior joined one of Colorado’s most elite clubs when he beat Pueblo County’s Keenan Willits 11-2 to etch his name into the record books as the 17th four-time state champion in state history.
“This feels tremendous, it’s one of the best feelings I have ever had,” said Downing, who felt the effects of a head cold after the match and he was able to clear a little bit of the congestion that had built up during the match.
The career numbers for Notre Dame College-bound Downing are staggering. He finished his prep career with a overall record of 146-10, having lost just twice in-state – the last coming in December 2011 (his sophomore year) when he was pinned by Windsor’s Josh Donkle at the Northern Colorado Christmas Tournament.
On Saturday at the Pepsi Center, Downing not only capped his high school career with the win but also clinched the Class 4A team title for the Eagles for the second year in a row.
An early takedown followed by three back points in the first period was all that Downing needed, but he knew if there was any let-up, Willits was going to come after him.
“I knew he was going to come at me as hard as he could,” Downing said, “and I didn’t give him any chances to take advantage of that.”
Downing, whose cold was making it difficult to breath, took advantage of a blood time-stoppage in the third period by putting his arms on the shoulder of coach Pat DeCamillis to loosen things up.
“I said finish like a champ,” said DeCamillis of the impromptu timeout.
Willits came after Downing in the final minute and much to the appreciation of the crowd was able to get him in some shaky predicaments down the stretch. Still, the 11-2 score was indicative of Downing’s true dominance.
“The kids thought he was in the match,” said DeCamillis, who earned his first state championship as a coach after winning three on the mat with Arvada in the late 80s and early 90s. “But Phil went, went, went and went. He wrestled like a champion today.”
Soon after, with a few words of encouragement from Downing as he got ready to go, senior Zach Stodden won his second consecutive title with a 6-1 decision of Pueblo East’s Phillip Benavides at 182 pounds.
“It feels good to get that second one, now I’m ready for college and to take it to the next level,” said Stodden, who was able to reminisce about Broomfield’s success after the fact. “It’s incredible to us because we have pretty much spent our whole lives together, growing up in youth and all that, it feels good to have all the hard work pay off after 10 years.”
Broomfield’s first two finals entrants didn’t have as much luck. Darek Huff lost to Mead’s Sage Budd 8-4 in the 126-pound final and then Jarod Albo gave defending champion Kennen Lanteri of Windsor all he could handle in the 152 final, but lost 4-2.
D.J. Zissimos scored vital points through the consolation bracket and after returning just one week ago from a broken leg. He finished sixth at 220 pounds.
In the heavyweight championship match, Austyn Harris lost 5-0 to Air Academy’s Justin Petrash.
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