METAMORA — Washington sailed over a gigantic first hurdle in a quest for a third consecutive state wrestling title Saturday at the Class 2A Metamora Regional.

The top-ranked Panthers led No. 3 ranked Bloomington by just one and a half points heading into the final round.

Washington settled any thoughts of an upset by winning nine individual championships in 10 title attempts to secure its seventh regional crown in eight years. The Panthers finished with 226.5 points — 32.5 more than Bloomington. Metamora was third with 116.5 points.

Washington moves on to the LaSalle-Peru Dual-Team Sectional on Feb. 20.

“They came to wrestle today and we kinda knew they would,” Washington coach Nick Miller said of Bloomington. “Just from the way the seeding meeting went, you could kinda get that feeling they were coming to pull the upset. I enjoyed it, honestly, having that close of a meet.”

Washington and Bloomington squared off in six title bouts, with the Panthers winning five of those — from Joey Cape (3:26 pin at 113), Zeke Hulet (injury default at 120), Tyler Delaware (3-2 decision at 132), Blaize Punke (45-second pin at 145) and Dalton Jensen (1:42 pin at 152).

Other Panthers champs were Abe Hinrichsen (11-1 major decision at 106), Jared Head (3:10 pin at 160), Garrett Rich (10-5 at 170) and Jace Punke (3-1 overtime win at 285).

“Our guys responded really well in the finals,” Miller said. “We had a great final round. And that’s good for our guys to get that. We haven’t had that, especially in this area lately. Props to Bloomington. That was a lot of fun.”

Bloomington put eight in championship matches, but managed only titles from Ryan Gardner at 126 (a 5-1 decision against Washington’s Brody Norman) and Joseph Heinz at 195 (by injury default).

“You see it up north a lot, (that) two of the top teams will be in the same regional,” Bloomington coach Mike Gardner said. “Until they decide to seed it the way they do in some of the other sports, it’s what’s going to happen. I’ve always known what it was and I’ve been on the other side of that also. I wish we would have been a little closer to our potential, but even if we did they probably have a few more bullets than we do.”

One of the highlight matches came at 132 where No. 1-ranked Delaware used an early takedown and a second-period escape to escape with a 3-2 win against Bloomington’s Savion Haywood, who was ranked No. 1 at 138 in the regular season.

“I just tried to keep his attacks away and get to my shots instead and score off those,” said Delaware, who next season will be a college teammate of Haywood's at Old Dominion.

Top-ranked Jace Punke closed out the afternoon by getting a takedown 10 seconds into overtime to beat No. 6 Marques Cox of Peoria High.

“I’ve never wrestled a full 285-pounder, and Marques was every bit of 285,” the 5-foot-8, 236-pound Punke said of the 6-foot-5 Northern Illinois football recruit. “It was a real good test. I just had to go out there and get the job done. It’s kinda hard to open up an offense against that big of a dude, that strong of a guy.”

AROUND THE MAT: Canton and Metamora each had one champion and four sectional qualifiers ... Canton’s Curtis Norton won the 138-pound title with a 55-second pin against Metamora’s Brayden Smith ... Metamora senior Chris Leanos scored a takedown with 40 seconds left in the third period to beat Pontiac’s Tyler Lanning 7-6 at 182 … The only other area champion was East Peoria junior Nick Wiley, who earned a 7-3 decision in the 220-pound finale against Bloomington’s Ben Wright...East Peoria, Peoria High and Limestone each had three sectional qualifiers and Morton two ... In the longest match of the day, Limestone’s Hunter Jarvis moved on by getting an escape for a 3-2 double overtime win in the 160-pound third-place match.

Stan Morris can be reached at 686-3214 or smorris@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @stanmorrispjs