And Warde ends Danbury's 23-year title reign

Last Saturday's FCIAC wrestling championship was a watershed one for many reasons.

Most notably, Fairfield Warde ended Danbury's 23-year streak of winning the event, and after the decisive match -- the penultimate one, in which 215-pound Marcio Ventura, of Warde, defeated Danbury's Dylan Hancock, 5-3, to lift the Mustangs over the Hatters -- nearly all wrestling teams chanted "It's-all-o-ver!" to the Hatters' grapplers, who sat in the stands, despondent and in shock over the end of an era. Their era.

The Rams had plenty to be proud of as well.

New Canaan advanced two wrestlers into the finals -- Andy Lee (112 pounds) and Brian Khzouz (140) -- and seven players finished in the top six. Head coach Paul Gallo said his team's fifth-place showing was one of the best efforts he's seen from his guys in many years.

After the meet, wrestlers said Gallo was enthralled with the heart of this team ever since the first practice. This year, the talent matched the desire in nearly every weight class.

"Gallo told us that it was his best lineup, top to bottom, ever," Lee said. "And there's been some great wrestlers who have come through here."

New Canaan set a team record in wins with 22 this season and won 88 percent of its matches -- also a program record.

Lee lost against Danbury's Brian Jennings, who is considered a favorite to run through every bracket this season en route to a state open crown. Even Gallo admitted his guy didn't stand much of a chance.

"He wasn't going to beat him," Gallo said. "He's as good as they get. I mean, this guy's going to be in the state open finals. He's that good. ... But [Lee] looked for his throws, tried some kick-over stuff. It didn't work, and he got pinned."

Lee overcame a big semifinal match against an opponent he had a long history with in Cliff Magloire.

Last year, in the state tournament, Lee defeated Magloire, but since FCIAC seeding is predicated on how wrestlers perform from the year prior for the FCIAC tournament, Magloire was seeded No. 2, Lee No. 3. Magloire defeated Lee in FCIACs in 2009 and earlier this season as well.

Trailing 2-1 with 15 seconds remaining in his match, Lee he popped his head through a hold to get two points and win 3-2.

"Honestly, I had much more pressure for that match," Lee said.

Knowing he was a long shot against Jennings, he had fun with his match and had just one objective: to pull off a self-patented move called a "flying cement job."

"I kind of compare it to the Jets' playoff run this year," Lee (28-3) said. "I tried my flying cement job, which is for the crowd. It's my flare. It didn't work, obviously, but I was just looking to have some fun."

Khzouz didn't take quite the same approach in his finals match against Greenwich's David Laborda.

Khzouz and Laborda wrestled in what was considered one of the best matches of the tournament. By the end of it, both wrestlers were visibly spent.

It went to three overtimes, with Laborda coming out with a 5-4 edge. What made the loss tough swallow for Khzouz was that he nearly defeated Laborda in the second overtime.

"Those two wrestled a great match," Gallo said.

With two seconds remaining in the second OT, Khzouz had to keep him wrapped up and prevent an escape move. He couldn't do it. It was retribution, as Khzouz faced similar defeat in the first overtime but got out of a hold to keep the match tied.

"I tried to hold him down, get wrist control and break him down flat," Khzouz said. "But he's a really strong opponent. He got up. We were both exhausted by the end of the second overtime."

Khzouz (26-3) was sick earlier in the season and lost 11-1 to Laborda. He was noticeably aggressive and in control for the first three minutes of the match.

"I had some aggression going into that match and he had some confidence," Khzouz said. "I was just going out there and trying to attack constantly. Overall, I think I was the better wrestler because I could throw him out of bounds and be on top of him in scrambles."

Khzouz, who took third place in the FCIACs last season, was accidently smacked in the eye when Laborda charged at him in the second period. Both Gallo and Khzouz said it wasn't critical, but after that move Laborda began to pick up steam.

"It was a little blurry at first, but I recovered from it," Khzouz said.

The rules for a third overtime are simple: one person is in a holding position, and if the holder continues to keep the wrestler down, he wins. If the other wrestler can escape, he wins. Laborda got free and took home the 140-pound title.

Other Rams who placed: Hunter Eldred (135) and Chris White (215) finished in third place, Dylan Kavookjian (160) had a fourth-place finish; and Cole Duncan (189) and Connor Flynn (119) came in sixth.

White (31-4) went up against Mark Robinson from Stamford. Earlier in the tournament, White pinned him in the first period with two seconds left in the match to advance to the semifinals, where he lost to Dylan Hancock.

"I got him with a lucky headlock and I knew I wasn't going to hit it again in the third-place match," White said. "I had to wrestle a little more conservatively and a little smarter."

He did, and got a 3-1 victory.

Eldred (26-6) lost to the eventual champion in the 135-pound class, Fairfield Warde's Ian McAllister, by virtue of a pin 3:38 into the match.

In the loser's bracket and going for third place, Eldred was paired against No. 2 seed Colin Paulish of Ridgefield. After going up 2-0 after the first period, Eldred lost his lead in the second, falling behind 3-2. With a minute remaining in the third, he escaped a hold to the match, and with 10 seconds left, Eldred got a takedown to win his bronze.

Efforts like those are what made a three-loss season possible. As the meet continued in the gym, the players reflected in the hallways of the high school about why it's been so special up to now.

"Coming into this year we knew we had a lot of potential and we took full advantage of that," White said.

And even fifth place meant something, because the team had already proven it could beat two of the teams that finished ahead of it Saturday.

"Even though that Greenwich and Stamford finished in front of us in the FCIACs, we still beat them during the regular season," Eldred said. "This year has been something special. And it's not over yet."

The team travels to Bristol Central to compete in Class L this weekend to improve upon a record-setting season.