DEWITT — From the outside, the record of Central DeWitt's Mitchell Howard far from screams "top flight wrestler."
He entered Saturday's Class 2A sectional tournament under .500 record and with only one top-3 tournament finish. He was seeded fourth in the 195-pound bracket.
None of that mattered.
Howard took out the top two seeds to claim the sectional title at Central DeWitt High School, one of six Sabers to advance to next weekend's district tournament in Solon.
"Hasn't been the greatest year, but it's ended pretty good so far," Howard said. "I felt good (at MAC), but I felt like I had more confidence after that. I felt more ready coming into this tournament."
DeWitt also finished with 220.5 points to take the sectional team crown and will be in the field for Tuesday's 2A regional team duals. The Sabers will wrestle South Tama at 6 p.m. in Manchester with the winner facing West Delaware in the regional final.
"I felt like on paper, we were in the driver's seat," Sabers coach Matt Ohnemus said. "Those role players scored points to distance ourselves from the competition."
According to Ohnemus, it's the first time DeWitt has sent six wrestlers to the district meet since 2007. Five of its six qualifiers left the mat at its home gym for the final time this season on top.
Howard was the biggest surprise.
The junior faced Maquoketa's Lane Stender in the semis, a former Wamac foe. From a previous match, he knew Stender loved the under-hook.
Howard took that away and controlled the match for a 9-3 victory.
"I came in knowing I'm going to have to feel him out at first," Howard said. "He was looking for hooks a lot. My goal was for him not to do that."
In the finals against Solon's Erich Karsten, Howard was up 1-0 heading into the third period. He rode out, plus turned Karsten for a pair of back points, for 1 minute, 50 seconds to lead 3-0.
Karsten couldn't get a shot in, and once the whistle blew, Howard pumped his fist toward his corner in celebration.
"That moment was amazing," Howard said.
Ohnemus saw the growth of a wrestler who got smarter and better as the year progressed.
"I knew he had it in him," Ohnemus said. "Would I have bet the house on it? Probably not, but he's capable. He did a perfect job of holding his positions."
The Sabers' Royce Butt (113), Keaton Zeimet (120), Robert Howard (132) and Cael Grell (138) outscored their opponents 39-2 in the championship matches. Butt, Zeimet and Grell each got bonus-point wins.
"(Royce) might be the toughest blue collar type of wrestler I've ever coached," Ohnemus said. "Cael Grell is sneaky good, he is just slick. I believe he can be a state tournament wrestler."
The Indians also had six wrestlers reach districts. Jaxon Bussa (106), Eric Kinkaid (145), Logan Waltz (170) and Cade Everson (182) all finished in first. David Grimes (126) won his wrestleback by pinning DeWitt's Keaton Simmons in 1:11 on a headlock.
He didn't wrestle last year and now sits at 19-15, two wins away from the state tournament.
"I knew I put in a lot of work," Grimes said. "I didn't know I far I could go. It means a lot to me."
Seniors Alex Beaver (126) and Kobe Simon (220) were two of five qualifiers for West Liberty. Simon had a late third period takedown to hold off Solon's Gage Marty in the first-place bout.
"In those close matches, I like to work down my opponent and get him to open up toward the end of the match," Simon said.
Tipton and Maquoketa each will have three at districts. The Tigers' Nile Schuett went upper-body to pin DeWitt's Cole Miller in 2:12 at heavyweight.
"I knew it was going to be tough match," Schuett said. "If you get an opening, don't lose it."
Stender, a senior for the Cardinals, rebounded from his semifinal setback with two wins to secure his spot in Solon next Saturday.