NORTH VERNON — Jennings County wrestler Victor Antunez remembers being up 5-0 in last year’s 113-pound regional championship match before everything else became a blur.

Antunez made a move on his opponent which caused both of them to hit their heads on the mat with about 19 seconds left. Antunez finished the match and was crowned the regional champion, but that collision sidelined him for the following week’s Evansville Semistate.

His parents felt Antunez wasn’t acting like himself and took him to the doctor two days later. Antunez was diagnosed with a concussion that left him with a stutter for more than three months and forced him to miss two-to-three weeks of school.

Antunez had to attend speech therapy to help with his stutter and had to stay away from high-light activities like playing video games for awhile.

“Looking back on it now, I probably shouldn’t have let him finish that 19 seconds,” Jennings coach Howard Jones said. “… If I knew then what I know now, he would not have finished. That could have been the death of him.”

Not only did Antunez have to sit out of semistate, but he was in jeopardy of being sidelined for all sports coming into his final year of high school. The former football player was told he would have to give up that sport, but luckily for him, he was able to pick up soccer and continue with wrestling this season.

Sitting out for the remainder of the year after winning a regional title was tough for Antunez, considering the type of season he was having. Three of his four regular-season losses came from athletes who went on to win state titles, and Antunez can only speculate on where he would have been on last year’s podium.

“It was really hard, and it just stunk watching people out there wrestle knowing that I could be out there achieving my goal of going to state,” Antunez said. “… That just made me want to work harder and come back better this year.”

Antunez picked up where he left off, earning his second consecutive regional title at 120 pounds to get one step closer of reaching his goal. He’s had a near-perfect season with just one loss on his record and is the No. 20-ranked wrestler in his weight class. Jones expects him to go to state, but also said that he is just glad that Antunez has his health back and is able to do what he loves.

Placing top eight in the state finals is Antunez’s ultimate goal for his final high school season.

“I’ve been wanting this since I’ve been a freshman,” Antunez said. “This is my third year going to semistate, so hopefully this is the year I go to state.”

Antunez will be one of six Panthers competing in Saturday’s semistate. Others who will be looking to punch their ticket to the state competition are Teagan Johnson (106), Xavier Barberis (126), Dalton Craig (132), Brooks Wathen (152) and Zane Beineke (170).

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Frank Bonner is a sports writer for The Republic. He can be reached at fbonner@therepublic.com or 812-379-5632.