SANFORD — The cowboy hat-wearing Noble High fan section erupted. Coach Kevin Gray ran across the gym floor pumping his fist. The exuberance was equal parts appreciation for heavyweight PJ Exel’s upset championship win, and relief.

Once the unquestioned rulers of Maine high school wrestling, winning 11 Class A titles in 13 years from 1999-2011, the Knights on Saturday captured their first state championship in nine years. In recent seasons they had, by their own evaluation, under-performed at state meets. When Exel needed just 54 seconds to pin Marshwood’s Zach Mercier – a wrestler he had never beaten before – it set a winning tone.

“When he (won), I just felt great and it definitely pushed me to go out and do what I did,” said Noble freshman Derek Cote, who won the 113-pound title.

Cote’s brother, junior Josh Cote, won his third individual title and senior Sam Martel got his second as Noble scored 115 points to pull away from defending champion Mt. Ararat/Brunswick (92) and Massabesic (88.5).

“If I had won the state title individually I wouldn’t have (been happy) if we didn’t win it as a team,” said Martel, who won all three of his matches with pins at 145. “There have been so many years we were supposed to win it and we’ve been just that little bit too short. Now we’ve finally got it. It just feels good.”

Derek Cote, who has almost no depth perception and is highly sensitive to light, defeated Camden Hills’ Eric Andrews, 2-0.

Josh Cote clinched the team title with a pin in 1:33 in the 132-pound final against Mt. Ararat’s Shea Farrell. Josh had started the Noble cowboy hat fashion statement by wearing his at the regional meet. He said he had no idea what the hats stood for, except maybe togetherness.

“To actually come out on top as a team is such a good feeling,” Josh Cote said. “I’m so proud of (my team), every single one of them. We’ve worked too hard to come up short like we have the past few years.”

Three seniors won their first state title.

Jeffrey Worster of Oxford Hills, who twice has been an All-American (top eight) at the Virginia Beach Nationals had placed third, second, and third at states the past three seasons. He won the 220-pound title and his 200th career match with a first-period pin.

“This meant a lot. I’ve come (so) close every year but always fall short,” Worster said. “I just knew, this is my year. There’s no other chance after this.”

Isaak Peavey of Erskine Academy had never placed in the top three at states but in the 195-pound title match, trailing Cheverus’ Sebastian Merrill in the third period, Peavey got Merrill in a high-chested bear hug and then was able to work a trip to put Merrill on his back.

“I learned that from my brother. I owe that bear hug to him,” Peavey said, crediting Jakob Peavey, the 2017 heavyweight champ.

The Outstanding Wrestler of the Meet award went to Marshwood senior Carsen Goodwin, who edged Mt. Ararat’s Spencer LeClair, last year’s 132-pound champ, 5-3 in overtime. Marshwood freshman Colby Isabelle won the 152-pound title.

Mt. Ararat’s repeat hopes were hurt when senior Caden Kowalsky, the North region champ at 145, injured his back while trailing in a semifinal bout. The Eagles did have individual wins from sophomore Brycen Kowalsky at 120 pounds and senior Ben Laurence at 170.

“Luckily it’s not too serious,” Brycen Kowalsky said of his brother’s injury. “I think we still thought we had a chance if we all got pins but we definitely didn’t have as high a chance after he was hurt. Noble’s got a phenomenal team.”

Other champions were Bonny Eagle’s Caden Frost (106) and Colby Frost (126) and Cony’s Casey Mills (182),

The top four wrestlers in each weight class qualify for the New England Qualifier tournament in two weeks at Noble High.

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