Columbus North and Columbus East may be rivals, but anybody who saw East wrestler Andy Davidson and North’s Brigham Kleinhenz hugging in the tunnel of the Ford Center during the Evansville Reitz Semistate on Saturday got to witness an example of sportsmanship between two of the schools’ athletes.

Davidson and Kleinhenz, who have been friends since elementary school, have been talking all season about how they would both become first-time state qualifiers together. The two seniors finally achieved what they’ve been working for all year after both 170-pound wrestlers punched their tickets to the 2018 IHSAA Wrestling State Finals, starting at 6 p.m. today at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis and concluding Saturday.

“We’ve both been determined. We’ve both been talking to each other the whole season, giving each other tips on other opponents that we’ve wrestled throughout the season,” Davidson said. “It was obviously really special for us to both make it.”

Getting past the semistate quarterfinal round in order to advance to the state meet was not an easy task for Davidson. It took an extra one-minute overtime, plus two 30-second periods and an ultimate tiebreaker period to beat No. 13-ranked Nick Willham of Greenwood 4-3.

Kleinhenz just started warming up for his ticket round match a couple mats over when Davidson and Willham began their overtime. Kleinhenz could hear all kinds of cheers while he was watching from a distance, but he couldn’t get too invested into what was going on with Davidson because he was moments away from starting one of the biggest matches of his career.

“My family was going crazy; the East fans were going crazy,” Kleinhenz said of Davidson’s match. “I look over one last time, and then I just like turned away from it. I had to close my ears. I covered my ears so I could focus.”

Right after No. 14-ranked Kleinhenz wrestled his way into the state meet by winning 10-4 against No. 8 Jonah Hays of Center Grove, he heard the news about Davidson and ran to him for a congratulatory embrace that ended with a “good job.” Both wrestlers were back on the mat a couple of hours after sharing that special moment. Only this time, it was against each other.

Both wrestlers lost their semifinal matches, which forced them to go head-to-head in the third-place match. Kleinhenz came into the match having already beaten Davidson twice this season, including in the regional match just a week prior.

Neither of them thought they would even be wrestling the same weight class when the season started.  Kleinhenz texted Davidson days before last month’s North-East meet and told him to make sure to wrestle at 170 because Kleinhenz was planning on wrestling at 182. They both were caught off-guard when they ended up on the mat together competing at 170.

“I thought it was just going to be like a meet-up with my old friend, and say, ‘Hi, how are you?'” Davidson said. “But we ended up wrestling each other and obviously ended up wrestling two other times this season, as well. It was definitely something unexpected, but I think we had like a whole other level of competition just because we knew each other so well.”

Kleinhenz got the best of Davidson in the first two matches, but Davidson redeemed himself in Saturday’s semistate. Davidson was facing a third consecutive loss to his friend when he was trailing Kleinhenz 3-2 with just a few seconds left in the final period.

Davidson scored a last-second takedown to beat Kleinhenz 4-3 and earn the third-place finish. Kleinhenz placed fourth.

“It felt so good, especially because I feel like I really stepped up on the biggest platform,” Davidson said. “Of the three times that we wrestled, that was obviously the biggest one, so it felt really good to get the win in the most important match that we’ve had.”

Now that the semistate is over, both wrestlers can go back to supporting one another as they prepare for today’s first-round matches. Kleinhenz will be going against top-ranked Noah Warren of Perry Meridian, while Davidson’s first-round draw is against No. 7 Bradley Lowe of Greenfield-Central.

Both Kleinhenz and Davidson are multisport athletes. Davidson was a soccer player in the fall. Kleinhenz, who didn’t start wrestling until his freshman year, was All-State in football this fall and a state track and field qualifier in the pole vault last spring. He plans to pole vault at BYU next season.

“I don’t even know if we both thought we were going to wrestle in high school when we were in third or fourth grade,” Kleinhenz said. “But we did, and we both had goals to go to state, and we did it. Having someone there with you to go through that experience in just a friend, it’s pretty cool to share.”

The only way Kleinhenz and Davidson would wrestle each other one last time is if they met in the final round.

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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.