Jason Behnken/Tampa Tribune
Brandon wrestlers react to their loss to South Dade at the Jim Graves Challenge the Streak Dual Meet Tournament Saturday night at Brandon High School. The loss ended a 459 meet winning streak for Brandon.
By ADAM ADKINS, The Tampa Tribune
BRANDON - Joey Cozart wanted the weight of The Streak square on his 140-pound frame's shoulders. The only problem was The Streak ended before he got that chance.
When 135-pounder Tico Baez scored a major decision against Brandon's Kevin Timothy on Saturday night, it gave Homestead South Dade an insurmountable lead against the Eagles in the final of the sixth annual Jim Graves Challenge the Streak Dual Meet Tournament. For the first time since Feb. 20, 1973, the Brandon Eagles' wrestling team tasted defeat.
The Streak, as it has been widely known, came to an end at 459 consecutive victories and 468 matches without a defeat after South Dade's 32-28 victory. Both marks are national records for a high school team in any sport.
Following the Baez-Timothy match that gave South Dade the win, longtime Brandon coach Russ Cozart sprinted across the mat to congratulate South Dade coach Victor Balmeceda. At the same time, the entire crowd inside the Brandon gymnasium rose to its feet to applaud the Eagles' program on its lengthy accomplishment.
And Joey Cozart stood waiting near the scorer's table. He still had to wrestle the dual meet's final match, even though The Streak already had been snapped.
"I was dying inside but I couldn't show it, "Joey said, his voice cracking. "I had to go out there and wrestle."
While there was plenty of visible heartache within the Brandon faithful, Russ Cozart, the architect of The Streak, refused to succumb to the moment. He talked about how the Graves Duals were created to test his program and give teams a shot at the Eagles. And he talked about how he always envisioned the night The Streak ended being a time for celebration, not for disappointment.
"No one wanted to be on the team that got beat. But let's face it, "Cozart said. "This is a world record that just came to an end, you know. It's not the end of the world."
The South Dade contingent certainly seemed on top of the world after the win.
"It's surreal. The words can't explain it. It's comparable to winning the state titles, but on a national level it's bigger, "said Balmeceda, who has led South Dade to four of the program's seven state titles. "I felt like the whole nation was behind us. They wanted to see that streak end."
That is, of course, everyone in the nation except those wearing Brandon's colors.
"It's hard to understand, but for the past 30 years it's been going and now it's over, just like that, "Timothy said. "It's too much to comprehend right now. I never even thought we had a chance to lose."
Brandon can look back on three matches that made a difference Saturday. South Dade stole matches at 152 and 189 pounds in the final seconds, and a big pin by South Dade's Shawn King at 171 pounds proved critical, as he was nearly pinned in the opening minute. That helped South Dade win five of the first seven matches, and Brandon couldn't overcome the deficit.
"We lost some matches that were right in our hands. It just wasn't meant to be. We've been on the other side of that, where we've got those little things and things went our way, "said Cozart, who happily took the blame for the loss - his first with the Eagles since taking over the program in 1980. "I finally messed up. I finally blew it. Hopefully they won't fire me."
But Brandon never gave up, even after The Streak was over. Moments before Joey Cozart stepped to the center circle, and after his father had congratulated South Dade's coaches, Russ Cozart walked over to his son and offered some advice.
"He just said go out there and do it for the team, and show everybody that we can go out there and keep winning no matter what, no matter what the circumstances are, "Joey said.
Joey did just that. He pinned South Dade's Elyse Fontaine one minute, 44 seconds into the first period. But it still hurt.
"It's a fact we have to face now. There's nothing we can do, "Joey said. "It's not like you can go back in time and change the way somebody wrestled."
Joey said the key was for the Eagles to mourn, and then recover. He admitted "it will sting in practice on Monday, "but they'll move on.
The goal for the Eagles now is to start a new streak. And it's a goal they think they can accomplish.
"You can't stay down forever, "Joey said.
Reporter Adam Adkins can be reached at (813) 657-4533