DENVER -- With an 11-2 major decision victory in the 160-pound state finals bracket, Broomfield’s Phil Downing gave his opponent one more loss than Dawson ever experienced on the floor at Pepsi Center.
Dating back to 1956, there had been 16 four-time state champions in the history of Colorado wrestling. Downing was the only competitor in Saturday’s finals that had a chance to add to that list, and in doing so, he derailed history at the same time.
Keenean Willits had seen his two younger brothers win state championships earlier in the night and was hoping to join them to become the first trio of siblings in Colorado history to all win state titles. But he ran into arguably one of the best grapplers in Colorado wrestling history and couldn’t overcome the early deficit.
“I knew once I got the first takedown that I was going to have it,” Downing after his match. “Once I turned him on his back, I knew it was over from there and I just kept pushing the pace.”
That pace paid dividends for not only Downing, but his teammates as well. His victory gave Broomfield the 2013-14 team state championship on top of the fourth title of his career.
Going into his match, Downing knew that a single victory would clinch the team title. His goal was to the end the match as fast as possible, but Willits proved too difficult to put away early.
“I knew we had to get one win to get the state title and I wanted to get the pin,” Downing said. “I could only get the major decision on him, but that was good enough.”
The match itself is ultimately what makes his fourth title stand out above the rest. On top of facing a tremendous competitor in Willits, Downing also had to fight off illness in order to get to the top of the podium for the fourth time.
“It was one of my tougher matches,” he said. “It went all three periods and the kid kept coming the entire time. I’ve had a really bad cold and sinus headaches and my wind wasn’t there like it should have been. I felt like I fought through it like I should have.”
With his high school career officially closed, Downing now has the distinction of being the 17th man to finish his career with four titles. He is the first wrestler to complete his career with four championships since Ponderosa’s Jake Snider won his fourth title in 2010.
Downing hasn’t had the time to comprehend the end of his high school career, but knows in the back of his mind that his journey is far from over. He hopes to continue his wrestling career in college and isn’t afraid to aim for goals similar to what he accomplished in high school.
“It’s a lot to take in right now, but I feel like I have a lot more goals to achieve,” he said. “(I plan on) wrestling in college and I definitely want to get four titles there, too.”
But for right now, Downing and the Eagles just want to take in the victory and enjoy the benefits of the hard work they have put in through the course of the season. The team goal of a state title came to fruition, but for Downing it was the cherry on top of a brilliant grappling career.
“It’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever felt in my life,” he said. “I just went out and did what I needed to do and mentally prepared myself all day.”
The team title is the second straight championship for the Eagles, who also won last year on the strength of Downing and teammate Zach Stodden’s individual titles in 2013. Stodden, too, won again on Saturday.