State wrestling

East Noble wrestler Garrett Pepple talks about his runnerup finish at 113 pounds.

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High school postseason

Knights’ Pepple places 2nd again

3rd, 7th finishes cap East Noble day in state wrestling

– DéjÀ vu stayed away as long as East Noble’s Garrett Pepple could keep it away, out there in the familiar spotlight of the state wrestling championship round. But in the end it took him down.

There were less than 30 seconds left in the 113-pound final Saturday night in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and the match between Pepple and D.J. Smith of Franklin was even at 3. And then Smith saw the slimmest of openings, exploded into Pepple’s legs, and scored the takedown that took him to a state title, 5-3, and sent Pepple home one step from the top of the podium for a second straight year.

“I had the attitude I wasn’t gonna lose again,” Pepple said in the back hallway, 20 minutes or so later. “But … ”

But, an early takedown for a 2-0 lead wouldn’t keep, and Pepple, the runnerup at 106 pounds a year ago, became the runnerup at 113 pounds this time. Smith scored three points late in the second period on an escape and a penalty (“We got into a scramble and I locked my hands, I guess,” Pepple said), and then Pepple tied it in the third before Smith struck for a final time.

In something of a rarity, it was the first time the two had ever wrestled in a high school match.

“So close. So close,” East Noble coach Keith Hoffar said. “And he battled … We knew (Smith) was explosive, and that’s how he got the takedown in the third period. He got in on Garrett, and when he got in on Garrett he was too strong to stop the finish.”

And if that left Pepple pondering the what-ifs (“First takedown usually wins for you,” he said), it was also a deceptively grim end to one of the brightest days in East Noble wrestling history.

Besides Pepple, Connor Knapp finished third at 120 pounds, losing on a pin to unbeaten, two-time state champion Chad Red of New Palestine in the semifinals, then handling DeLaweren Gayfield of Concord 14-2 in the third-place bout.

Brandon Joest, meanwhile, finished seventh at 220, giving East Noble three state placers for the first time ever.

“Tremendous day for East Noble wrestling,” Hoffar said. “For us to get three place finishers, a second place and one in the finals, those are great days. That’s hard to beat for us.”

Elsewhere, Kyle Jolas of Huntington North finished fifth at 160 pounds, and two other area wrestlers reached the semifinals. Austin Bauer of Angola – who came into the day 41-9 – lost on a technical fall at 152 to Daren Schurg of Crown Point, then lost to Tristan Macri of Mishawaka 5-1 in the third-place match. Snider’s Erique Early was beaten 4-3 by Zachary Davis of Penn at 126, then lost on a technical fall to Nick Lee of Evansville Mater Dei in the third-place match.

As for Pepple, a junior, it’s on to next year.

“Hoped that I could score the last couple of points to secure the win, but things happen for a reason,” he said. “I’ll be back next year.”