Northern senior 171-pound wrestler Walter Hoffman sat quietly on the Calvert High bleachers, moments after his 4A/3A South Region championship victory over Bowie's Mike McFadden. But instead of celebrating his 4-3 decision over McFadden and the team tournament title it clinched, Hoffman pondered a match much too close for comfort.
"My head just wasn't in the match," Hoffman said. "I hadn't had a good week of practice [because of snow], and I just wasn't ready."
Although Hoffman may have been displeased with his effort, the hard-earned victory provided the four points the Patriots needed to pull out a two-point win for their second consecutive region title.
Northern finished with 151 points, followed by La Plata's 149. Calvert had 142 points for third place and Chopticon followed with 135.
La Plata had won the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference tournament and was the SMAC and regional dual-meet champion. The Warriors had only one wrestler -- 145-pound junior Brandon Jennings -- reach the championship round in the region, but still put itself in good position before the championship round by winning five third-place matches.
But in the end, Northern's three first-place finishes and one second-place finish were enough to outlast the Warriors, who were state dual-meet runners-up.
"The team title, that's very important to us," Hoffman said. "We see these teams a lot, so it means something, of course."
The top four finishers in each weight class Saturday earned spots in this weekend's state tournament at McDaniel College in Westminster.
Saturday's regional tournament had been scheduled for two days, but snow on Friday forced organizers to cram the meet into one day, which lasted more than 13 hours in Calvert's small, steamy gym.
The tournament produced few surprises. Top seeds won 12 of 14 weight classes, with the other two won by the No. 2 seed over the No. 1 seed. In many cases the finals produced a rematch of familiar rivals.
One of the most exciting rematches pitted Calvert freshman Ryan Buff against Chopticon's Michael Cannon in the 112-pound match. In his fifth match against Cannon, Buff won for the fourth time by taking an 11-7 decision.
Buff improved to 28-1, with his only loss to Cannon. Cannon is 29-4, with the four losses coming against Buff.
"Rivalries are always good," Buff said. "He's going to know my moves, and you're going to know his. You're not going to be able to get away with a lot."
For Northern, the meet ended up hinging on concurrent title matches -- Hoffman's 171-pound bout and Matt Parsons's 189-pounder against Calvert sophomore Phil Riley. Parsons pinned Riley in 35 seconds to earn six points, meaning a win by Hoffman -- who had won his first 30 matches this season -- would clinch the team title.
But Bowie's McFadden gave Hoffman trouble the whole time. McFadden was close to an escape at the end of the final period, but time ran out before he could earn the tying point.
"I was just trying to hold on, it was not something I was used to," Hoffman said. "I've got to work harder. What I showed out there won't do at states."
La Plata led heading into the championship bouts, which were staged two-at-a-time on different mats. In the Warriors' only championship match, 145-pound Jennings put on a gutty performance, coming from behind to take a 7-4 decision over Northern's Jeremy Desantis.