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Cougars not intimidated by Eagles' record

With home turf advantage, Durant thinks it could be the team that finally beats Brandon.

By SCOTT PURKS and TERRY JONES
Published January 12, 2006


PLANT CITY - Durant coach Dennis Kitko said he believes his team can end "The Streak."

Tonight. In front of a packed house at Durant.

That's right, according to Kitko, after 32 years and a national record 422 consecutive victories, Brandon could lose, something that hasn't come close to happening in more than 15 years.

"Our guys are capable," said Kitko, a three-time individual state champion for Brandon in the early 1990s. "But a few things will have to happen for us to win. In addition to wrestling a perfect match, we need to win eight individual matches, with three, preferably four, pins."

With only 14 individual matches, that would leave Brandon only six to claim.

Brandon coach Russ Cozart acknowledged Durant's strength and balance and the fact the Cougars, who have focused on this match for an entire year, will be extra charged up at home.

"This will be a tough match, but our guys aren't ready to concede anything," Cozart said. "Dennis has always been an aggressive competitor and he has carried it into success as a coach. But we will just have to wait and see what happens on the mats."

Durant has one undefeated wrestler, 135-pound senior Tim Burdine, among its top four, and though the Cougars have no returning individual state champions, the squad has made great strides and is considered a contender for a team state title.

Beside Burdine, Tommy Bennett (103), Justin Bechtold (119) and Adam Doback (145) must almost certainly score victories. Burdine, Bennett and Bechtold have faced Eagles before with reasonable success. Bechtold defeated freshman Kevin Timothy with a decision, Burdine scored a major decision over Eagles junior Justin Uno and Bennett lost by a technical fall to Brandon freshman Eric Grajales.

Durant appears to need more matches in the upper seven weight classes (145, 152, 160, 171, 189, 215, 275) and could get four victories in the lower weight classes (103, 112, 119, 125, 130, 135, 140).

The Eagles counter with two returning state champions up top with Sean Joyce at 145 and David Craig at 171 and will be favored at 152 and 160. But Durant is very strong in the final three upper weights and will have to get at least two of its necessary pins up there.

Cozart said he's well aware of every scenario.

"This is a rebuilding year for us, but we have some very good wrestlers in our lineup and some who have struggled, but for us to win we have to wrestle well, like we have all year," Cozart said. "Anything can happen in a dual, but we will have to win the matches where we are favored and stay close in the others."

Eric Grajales (103), Alex Araoz (130), Sean Joyce (145) and David Craig (171) are the top Eagles. All are 25-0.

Durant is strong in its top three weights and must have wins and at least two of the pins from Jim Kauderman (189), Chip Bowden (215) and Greg Updike (275).

Brandon also has strong competitors in Kyle Keller (112), Zaq Berridge (140), Keith Koziel (152), Tommy Timothy (160) and James Brown (125). If these five Eagles wrestle well, Durant's plan to win could fall well short.

Cozart said he and his team love the challenge.

"We will meet a great crowd and a highly motivated team tonight," Cozart said. "Dennis has built a very good program and has some great kids on his team, but we won't just roll over."

Of course, the streak's mystique is always there as well.

Kitko, however, said his wrestlers believes in themselves.

"I have been on the other side of that mystique (wrestling for Brandon) and a couple of our kids have wrestled in the Brandon club, so that (mystique) will not affect us," Kitko said. "We will not be intimated by Brandon."