By JOSH RIZZO
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
Gage Stephens never forgot Jonah Coggeshall's dismay.
Last year at the Illinois Class 1A state wrestling tournament, Coggeshall had his first-round match at 145 pounds in hand, leading Seneca's Alex Valentine 12-0 when the Central wrestler was called for an illegal move.
Valentine was given two choices at the time -- continue wrestling or stop the match and have Coggeshall disqualified. Valentine chose the later, moving into the championship bracket and sending Coggeshall into the wrestlebacks.
Valentine injury defaulted his final two matches and finished fifth, while Coggeshall fought his way back to finish third.
The medal and the better finish didn't erase the disappointment, something Coggeshall shared with Stephens in the moments after the injury disqualification happened. Stephens, a Quincy Notre Dame wrestler who trained with Coggeshall in the offseason, tried to console his friend to little avail at the time.
That scenario ran through Stephens' head Saturday.
Trailing Dakota's Carver James 7-0 in the second period of a semifinal match at 138 pounds, James grasped Stephens' right wrist both hands, yanked the QND wrestler's arm around his body and popped Stephens' right shoulder.
The referee stopped the match immediately, while Stephens writhed on the mat in pain.
He was advised not to continue after being looked at by the trainers and was given the same choice Valentine had.
Keep wrestling or take the easy way out.
Stephens knew what the right decision was.
"I just remembered that last year Jonah Coggeshall lost when a kid injury defaulted on him," Stephens aid. "I remember sitting back there and trying to calm him down and how upset he was. I knew I couldn't do that to that kid. He worked just as hard as me to get there. I had to do what was instilled in me by my school, the coaches and my family."
After using just 1 minute, 46 seconds of his injury time, Stephens made up his mind.
He ignored the advice of medical personnel and pushed forward.
"He didn't hesitate," QND coach Ken Mansell said. "He couldn't lie to himself, and if he would have laid down, everyone would have judged him accordingly. If it's above board, people understand. He could continue, so he did continue. If he would have said he couldn't go, it would have been the wrong thing to do."
Stephens lost 9-1, and James went on to win the state championship.
Had he been selfish, Stephens would have taken that opportunity away from James. Instead, he came out the true winner.
Relegated to wrestling in the fifth-place match, Stephens made one request of his coaches. He wanted his older brother, Codey, to sit in his corner during the final match.
Codey Stephens, a 2009 QND graduate, never made it to the state tournament, although he qualified for sectionals three times.
"(Gage) wanted his hand raised and that fifth-place medal," Mansell said. "I obliged his request because his brother came up just short, and it was a very fitting thing."
With his brother barking encouragement, Stephens fulfilled his dream. He beat Litchfield's Caleb Thompson 6-4 to walk away a winner.
"I just decided it's my last year and I wrestled injured before, and I had to go out with a win," Stephens said. "My coach told me he believed in me, and I wanted to go out with and win and not settle for last place.
"I can honestly say I have no regrets."
When you make the right decision, you never do.