If Finn Higgins' university wrestling career is, indeed, over, the 21-year-old theatre and film student couldn't have scripted a more captivating final scene.
The 6-2, 220-pound Wesmen athlete wrapped his powerful mitts around a third consecutive gold medal in the men's 100-kilogram weight class at the U Sports national wrestling championships late Saturday afternoon.
Higgins defeated University of Regina Cougars grappler Waylon Decoteau by a 10-point margin early in the second round of their championship bout before a huge crowd at the U of W Axworthy Health and RecPlex.
Most appropriately, the battle of the big men was the very last bout of the two-day Canadian championships that attracted about 150 talented male and female wrestlers from nearly 20 schools across the country.
When it was over, the spotlight was firmly set on Higgins, a native of Oklahoma City who now owns three national titles in his adopted homeland.
The referee's signal that he had prevailed left him momentarily jarred, he said.
"It didn't hit me until a few seconds after. I was stunned there for a bit. And after I realized it was mine, I couldn't hold it in," said Higgins, who had raised a fist in the air and let out a whoop. "It's been three years at the University of Winnipeg, this is my home and this is my family now. I could not think of a better way to end it.
"It did feel like the last scene. That was likely my last wrestling match ever. It's bittersweet, but it's a lot more sweet as opposed to the bitter."
Higgins, who completes his degree this spring, has already said he wants to pursue a career in mixed martial arts.
In Saturday's finale, Decoteau gave his Wesmen opponent all he could handle.
"That guy was incredibly tough," said Finn, a bruise forming around his left eye. "I had a little bit of a heart attack right at the beginning because I actually hit what I thought was a really clean shot, and that scramble he did to get on my leg and push me out was freakin' fantastic.
"I was like, 'Whoa, this guy's better than anyone I've wrestled before.' I looked over at my coaches and (assistant coach) Leah (Ferguson) looked at me and she's like, 'Just compose yourself.' "
Down 1-0 early in the first three-minute round, Higgins vaulted ahead with a pair of thunderous takedowns worth four points apiece and led 10-1. The match was halted early in the second round when he gained a single point to build an 11-1 cushion after attacking Decoteau and forcing him out of bounds.
The threshold for victory by technical fall is a 10-point lead.
"I just felt the energy today. It was 50-50, because you don't want to choke in front of the home crowd or you can ride the energy I was surrounded by," added Higgins, who won the Canada West conference title earlier this month in Saskatoon to earn a spot at the nationals. Then on Friday, he tore through three staight opponents to set up the showdown with Decoteau.
Higgins' father, Eric, travelled north for his son's historic victory, while Finn's girlfriend, Rachel Hill, and her dad, former Blue Bombers legendary cornerback Rod Hill, were also there to cheer him on.
"This was great. I knew in this setting it certainly had the makings to make him more nervous. The stakes are higher in his adopted home town," said Higgins' father. "I knew he was carrying a little more desire but also the stress with it. I was just really excited for him with how it finished.
"That final was one of the most exciting matches he's been in. Typically, he has wiped people out. So, to come out and have that challenge and add in some exciting moves was remarkable."
Higgins gold was the lone medal secured by the Wesmen squad this weekend. Others came close, including Calvin Daum, 26, a Saskatoon product who moved to Winnipeg just over a year ago to wrestle for at U of W.
Daum lost the bronze-medal match Saturday in the men's 90-kg weight class to Nick Proctor of the University of Calgary Dinos.
"We've wrestled against each other for five years and it's been back and forth, back and forth," he said. "They're tough matches and he's a tough competitor and a great rival. He ended up beating me in the second round by technical superiority, I believe it was 16-6."
Meanwhile, the Brock Badgers pulled off the sweep for the fourth consecutive year, winning both the men's and women's team titles.