Throughout his journey from novice to elite wrestler, Brian Moreno maintained a cool demeanor.
The pressure built with each of his victories, but Moreno kept it in check.
"I just wrestle one match at a time" became a favorite cliche for the Santa Ana Foothill senior this season as he sought to join select company as a three-time state champion.
He did just that Saturday night, defeating Filip Novachkov of Sunnyvale Fremont, 5-3, in the 119-pound final at Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield, but his trademark ability to stay calm got rattled in the process.
Novachkov scored an early takedown in the first period, and there, lying face down in front of a state-finals record crowd of 7,708, the pent-up pressure built to a boiling point for the two-time defending champion.
"It got pretty intense," Moreno said. "It really got to me this time. When he took me down, I started thinking about it."
It was a fleeting thought.
Moreno quickly regrouped, worked his way free for an escape and scored a takedown to take a 3-2 lead. He then controlled the remainder of the match.
He joins Lawrence Jackson of Santa Monica and Scott Chapman of Lake Arrowhead Rim of the World as the only Southland wrestlers to win three state championships and is the 13th wrestler to win that many in the 33-year history of the tournament.
Not bad for someone who began wrestling as a freshman.
"It's an amazing goal for me," Moreno said. "I never thought I could come this far. I surprised myself."
Moreno finished the season with a 55-0 record. He was 113-1 over the last two seasons and 190-18 for his career.
Raphael Reynolds of San Fernando scored a victory of sorts by finishing fourth at 160 pounds. It was the best-ever finish by a City Section wrestler.
"It's an accomplishment, but it wasn't my goal," Reynolds said. "I wanted to be the best."
Reynolds lost in the first round, then won seven consecutive matches to make it to the third-place match, which he lost, 4-2, to Steven Urquizo of Merced. His journey included a victory over Shawn Boaz of San Dimas, who was ranked No. 2 in the state.
Moreno and Reynolds were among the few bright spots in an otherwise disappointing tournament for Southland wrestlers.
Only Moreno, Chris Drouin of Temecula Chaparral, Arman Kucukkoseoglu of Chino Hills Ayala and Mitchell Monteiro of Paso Robles advanced to weight class finals.
One state champion and four finalists are new lows for the Southern Section at the state championships.
Poway, as expected, won the team title with 167 points. Bakersfield, last year's champion, finished second with 111.
The 10th-place finish by Santa Ana Calvary Chapel was the best among Southland teams and it was the first time since 1983 that a Southern Section team did not place among the top six.