COLUMBUS - Steubenville Big Red sophomore Tariq Wilson had a game plan going into Saturday's Division II finals at 113 pounds at the Ohio State Wrestling Championships at the Schottenstein Center at Ohio State University.
The problem was that junior Eli Stickley of St. Paris Graham wouldn't let him execute it.
'That kid wrestles smart," said Big Red coach Mike Blackburn of Stickley. "He's battle tested. He slowed us down, tied us up and didn't let us finish our shots."
That led to a 9-0 victory by Stickley, who finished the year 50-3.
"You have to give credit to Stickley," said Blackburn. "He had a great game plan. When we did get in on a shot, he didn't let us finish."
Wilson finished sixth last year at 106 and Stickley (who took third) beat him 24-7 in the quarterfinals.
"I was more focused this year," Wilson said of the difference from a year ago. "Other than that, I'll work harder to see if I can get a state title.
"It didn't feel like I was wrestling in the state finals until I got out there and started wrestling. It's amazing (being in front of packed house). You have to feel it to experience it yourself. It's exciting."
Wilson was down 2-0 after the first period and 4-0 going into the final period.
"The game plan was to stay on offense and work on shots, but I couldn't get them," said Wilson. "He was strong."
Stickley finished fifth at 106 as a freshman.
Wilson got to the final with a 9-7 decision over Seth Beard of Napoleon, who was ranked No. 2.
"That boosted my confidence," said Wilson.
"Seth is a great wrestler," said Blackburn. "He was in the (106) finals last year against (Claymont's) Tyler Warner. Tariq went out there against Seth and put on a great match, so you know he's definitely improved a lot from last year.
"I think when you go into the semis as the underdog and wrestle a great match - and was never really in jeopardy - that definitely gives you confidence, especially knowing that Beard beat Stickley last year in the semifinals.
"But, we have a ways to go. He wants to be a state champ and that means more hard work.
"He's in the state finals, so you know he improved a lot since last year. Overall, he knows he has to keep working on all aspects of his abilities - especially on the mat because he's great on his feet."
Wilson, who finished the season at 49-2 and is 97-10 over two seasons at Big Red, understands what's in front of him.
"It's tiring putting in all those hours for six minutes, but you have to keep fighting, pushing through it," said Wilson. "I know I improved a lot over the summer wrestling, putting in the work."