Louis Bland and Rudi Burtschi finished their 75 combined matches the same way: twisting opponents into uncomfortable positions en route to victory on the wrestling mat.
Off the mat, they made for a difficult choice at The Bee.
Bland, a Central Catholic High senior, won his third state title, completing an undefeated season and one of the most heralded careers in Stanislaus District history.
Burtschi, The Bee's 2007 wrestler of the year and an Oakdale senior, won his second state title in a row while completing an undefeated season. He cemented his status as one of the top wrestlers in Oakdale's lengthy history.
So, who was going to be The Bee's 2008 wrestler of the year?
It was a difficult decision. And in the end, it was the only decision: Bland and Burtschi are The Bee's 2007-08 co-wrestlers of the year.
Burtschi won the state title at 189 pounds as a junior, then overcame two obstacles before this season's state meet.
First, the 215-pounder got a late start because of the Oakdale football team's section championship season. Then, he suffered a stress fracture in his foot, causing him to miss much of the preseason.
"I spent the season basically getting into shape," Burtschi said. "Even at sections, I felt like I was still getting there."
He had the skills, and the background.
"My dad (Rudi) was a JC state champ," the younger Burtschi said. "Pretty much my entire family wrestled. I was born and raised wrestling."
He saved his best tournament for last, the CIF State Meet. He pinned his way into the semifinals, where he beat Brett Sanchez of Clovis 6-4. Burtschi followed with an 8-6 win over Coalinga's Josh Boger, also undefeated, for the state title. He hopes to continue wrestling in college.
Bland got an even later start than Burtschi. The Bee's 2007 football player of the year led the Raiders to the CIF State Division III Championship Bowl Game, a loss to St. Bonaventure of Ventura.
He didn't need to drop much football weight to hit the mat at 189 pounds.
Bland faced his toughest challenge early in the season. One month in, he faced Gilroy's Hunter Collins in the finals of the prestigious Five Counties Invitational. Collins lost to Bland 8-5 for the state championship when they were sophomores but steadily improved. Bland had only been on the mat for a month.
But Bland beat Collins 10-8, knocking him from the national No. 1 spot. Eventually, Collins dropped to 171 pounds, where he won a state title.
Bland didn't slow after that, pinning Bullard's Phil Brandt in the first period of their state championship match.
"I wasn't going to be denied," said Bland, one of six four-time state finalists. "I still remembered losing here my junior year. I wanted to close my senior year out, my last match, with a win."
Champ vs. champ?
So what would have happened had Burtschi and Bland faced off?
They knew each other all through youth wrestling, and in their last high school match Bland pinned Burtschi in the final seconds of the 171-pound final at the 2006 Sac-Joaquin Section Championships. Both are much improved since that battle.
"It would be pretty close," Bland said. "It would come down to who tires out first."
Bland would stalk around the mat, much lower than Burtschi. Burtschi would wait for a throw, where he could bring his skills on the mat to bear.
"We have similar styles," Burtschi said. "And we both watch each other a lot, so we'd know each other. It would be close."
Takedown, escape. Takedown, reversal, escape!
"We both know the basics so well," Bland said. "I couldn't tell you who'd win."
There's the final buzzer. It's 7-6. But who won?
This season, they both did.
Bee staff writer Will DeBoard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.