CHATTANOOGA – For a fourth consecutive season Riley Bennett walked off the wrestling mats after competing for a state championship.
The Fairview senior did the same routine he always has Wednesday at the Chattanooga Convention Center. He didn’t show any emotion. He shook his opponent’s hand, thanked the opposing coaches and went to his corner with his coaches. It was just like the previous three years, but the big difference was this time he was a state champion.
The senior finally broke into a giant grin and jumped into his dad’s arms as the moment really set in. After three runner-up finishes, Bennett captured his first Class A-AA state title by winning the 145-pound division.
“Oh man, it feels good,” Bennett said. “I got the job done and it just feels amazing."
The senior won late in the third period when Pigeon Forge called the match. Junior Josh Parton suffered a severe nosebleed just over a minute into the final and never really did recover and ultimately forfeited the final.
Fairview coach James Derrick called Bennett an “absolute class act” and the team’s “commander in chief.”
“Year in and year out, Riley displays character and humility and really represents this sport, his family and this community in a way that parents want their kids to wrestle because they see a kid like that,” Derrick said. “What a great, great day for Riley and a big day for the Bennett family. I’m extremely happy for them.”
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Riley’s longtime wrestling partner Malachi Bennett, his sophomore brother, also reached the state finals. The 160-pounder fell in the first period against Greeneville’s Kodiak Cannedy, who clinched his third consecutive championship.
“I wouldn’t be here without my older brother,” Malachi Bennett said. “He’s been practicing with me every day for seven or eight years. That’s what’s made me who I am today.
”I'm super proud of him."
The younger Bennett was one of three runner-up finishers for the Yellow Jackets. Sophomore Ken Curtis at 182 and junior Jacob Clevenger – the underweight heavyweight – both secured second place as well.
Curtis dropped an 8-4 decision to unbeaten Forrest senior Noah Hill, while Clevenger fell after a late takedown by Pigeon Forge senior Mustafi Algarawi.
Curtis, who has wrestled up at 195 all season, said he was proud of reaching the finals in a loaded division that featured five returning state medalists.
“It’s pretty amazing and looking around and seeing all those guys are seniors, it just shows how hard we’ve been able to work,” he said. “I know we can just keep building and keep working and keep getting better.”
Clevenger rallied to reach the final after getting tossed around in the semifinals by East Nashville heavyweight Kaymon Overton. The junior, who weighed in at 206 pounds Wednesday, still found ways to outlast his much bigger opponents. He scored a second round pin over Overton, who finished third, and built a slim 3-2 lead entering the third period against Mustafi, who also had 70 pounds on him.
The Pigeon Forge senior was able to survive late and avenged a loss to Clevenger in the state duals championship with a takedown inside the final 20 seconds for a 5-4 decision.
“The finals is a special place,” said Clevenger, who placed fifth in both 2019 and 2020. “It’s kind of an eerie feeling being the man out there with just your opponent. It’s an intense experience.”
Clevenger said he was disappointed he didn’t use his speed to his advantage as much as he had planned, but expects to pack on some weight and be back next year.
“The future’s bright for Fairview,” he said.
Arie Donaldson (195) and Sam Frank (106) both added fourth place finishes for Fairview, while Keegan Seaver (120) and Jeffery Anderson (126) closed in fifth.
Anderson’s match ended prematurely after an illegal move sent the sophomore into the mat head first. The fall knocked him out briefly and the young wrestler laid on the mat with trainers and EMTs for more than 15 minutes before being taken to the hospital “as a precautionary measure,” according to coach Derrick.