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By JARED BELL
Illinois Matmen

Real Woods never doubted that he’d win a state title Saturday.

Others, however, weren’t so sure.

After the Montini 126-pound junior lost to Oak Park-River Forest junior Anthony Madrigal three times this season – including once in a preseason tournament – Woods validated his faith in himself Saturday with a tight, hard-fought and thrilling 1-0 decision to win the Class 3A 126-pound state title at the IHSA State Tournament in Champaign.

“There was no doubt whatsoever,” Woods said. “I never doubt myself. That’s not in my nature and how I am as a man. I always go out there to win and I always believe that I am going to win.”

Woods showed that Saturday.

In one of the night’s most-anticipated state championship matches, the two stars battled to a scoreless first period and, in the second period, Woods rode Madrigal for the entire two minutes to send the showdown in the third period scoreless.

In the final period, Woods found an escape just 11 seconds into the period to take a 1-0 lead, an advantage he held the rest of the way.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Woods said. “In my eyes, facing a guy for a fourth time in one season is an advantage. You learn so much more from a loss.”

The third-period, however, wasn’t easy for Woods, who had to work to win his title.

With Woods winning 1-0 in the final minute, Madrigal had position for a go-ahead takedown not once but twice.

The first time the referee controversially stopped the action and, the second time, Woods fought off a takedown near the out of bounds line with less than 15 seconds remaining.

“In last year’s state final (against Sandburg graduate Louie Hayes), I was in the exact same situation where I was up with a 1-0 lead and he had me in a leg with the out of bounds line right there,” Woods said. “This time, I had to stay in the match more and not worry about getting out of bounds. I had to fight the position.”

The win was redemption for Woods and his three previous losses to Madrigal, including two times at the Ironman in December.

“At the Ironman, he tiled me a couple of times in the first match (in the quarterfinals), so I got that fixed for the second match (for third place). I was actually ahead with 15 seconds left, but he got a takedown on me and I was real mad, so emotions got to me and he took me down in overtime (for a 5-3 sudden victory).

“You learn from those mistakes and, finally, I got to show that I had learned and improved.”

By doing so, Woods won his third straight medal Saturday, his second state title and his first Class 3A state championship.

“It’s a great feeling,” Woods said. “The first title freshman year felt pretty good, but it was in 2A. My sophomore year, Montini bumped up to 3A and I was pretty excited. I came into that (state title) match undefeated, but took a loss and it was devastating. It just pushed me harder for this year. I finally got this 3A state title, and it’s awesome.”

It showed what Woods can do.

“A lot of people think that 3A is a lot better competition,” Woods said. “Tonight, I got to prove that I’m at that level.”

Jared Bell can be reached at (815) 220-6938. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.