HUNTSVILLE, Ala. Few people noticed when University of Arkansas-Monticello senior Brad Sears finished third in the underhand chop the first discipline at the Southeastern Conclave for the STIHL TIMBERSPORTS Collegiate Series presented by Carhartt but he considered it the turning point of his day.
"I shaved 30 seconds off my time from practice," Sears said after posting a time of 1:07.43. "I'm glad I was able to get it down that much when it counted."
All 15 competitors one from each of the participating colleges competed in four lumberjack disciplines: the underhand chop, stock saw, standing block chop and single buck.
They received points for how they finished in each discipline (15 points for first, 14 for second, and on down the line), and the lumberjack with the most points gets invited to the championship in Columbus, Ga., in June to compete on the same stage as the professionals.
Sears wasn't thinking about Georgia when the event started on the dirt floor of Alabama A&M University Agribition Center. He was more interested in the ax throwing competition the next afternoon; he stood the chance of being the first to ever win the event four straight years.
"I didn't expect to come out here and win," Sears said. "I just wanted to meet the guys and have a good time. But I'm glad I did well."
He looked to be right on track with the "good time" plan until the second event, the stock saw, completely changed the game. The door was flung wide open for a group of guys who thought they were there to watch N.C. State's Logan Scarborough easily take home the title.
Scarborough looked like a lumberjack.
He was tall, strong and seemed to have a vendetta against all wood placed in his way. He was the pundit's pick coming in to the Southeastern Conclave, and he didn't disappoint in the underhand chop.
He went through the pine below his feet in 37 seconds almost twice as fast as second place.
"I really didn't hit my lines like I wanted to," said Scarborough, who was disappointed because he was looking for a sub-30 second time. "I was really nervous. This was my first time to compete like this."
University of Georgia's David Verdery came in second in 1:06.45, and Sears' personal best landed him in third.
Logan Scarborough (North Carolina State) 37.25
David Verdery (Georgia) 1:06.45
Brad Sears (Arkansas Monticello) 1:07.43
Kristopher Lewis (Auburn) 1:08.97
Adam Lethco (Tennessee) 1:16.78
According to Dave Jewett, STIHL TIMBERSPORTS professional and ESPNU color commentator for the collegiate events, the stock saw is the easiest discipline in the sport.
"It's one cut up and one cut down," Jewett said. "It may be that it's too easy and they're losing focus."
For whatever reason, seven of the 15 competitors disqualified in the event, including front-runner Scarborough. He had a perfect down-cut, but misjudged the up-cut and crossed over the 4-inch line. (They have 4 inches to create the two cookies. If they cut beyond the line, it's a disqualification).
Scarborough immediately knew what he had done and moved the saw back to where it was supposed to be, but he had made a small cut out of bounds and received no points for the event.
"It was very disappointing," said Scarborough, who would have had the winning time. "I knew what had happened, but I was hoping that somehow I didn't go over the line. Stuff like that just happens."
The winner of the stock saw, Virginia Tech's James McCabe, said he'd never competed in a stock saw competition, giving credence to Jewett's assessment of the ease of the event.
"I've been running a STIHL chainsaw my whole life," McCabe said after posting the winning time of 15.93 seconds. "I just picked it up and did like I would do in the woods."
It took Sears 22.06 seconds to cut two cookies, but just finishing the event with a time put him ahead of half the field. His sixth-place finish was his worst in the four disciplines, but Scarborough's DQ made the stock saw the most instrumental event in Sear's day.
James McCabe (Virginia Tech) 15.93
Adam Lethco (Tennessee) 17.36
Hunter Hutchinson (Louisiana State) 17.91
Kristopher Lewis (Auburn) 19.50
Jonathan Watts (Kentucky) 22.28
Standing block chop
This is the first year that the standing block chop has been a part of the Collegiate Series, and it was the first event that people started recognizing Sears as a threat to win.
He was in the second group. Nobody in the first group severed the log in under two minutes, but Sears made his turn in less than 30 seconds.
"Wow, this guy really has some power," Jewett said as Sears chopped through the back side.
His time of 67 seconds was good enough for second, behind Scarborough's 61 seconds.
"It's something I practiced a lot before coming to this event," Sears said.
It put Sears in the lead by four points over Kentucky's Jonathan Watts heading into the last event, and all but put Scarborough out of the picture.
Logan Scarborough (North Carolina State) 1:00.98
Brad Sears (Arkansas Monticello) 1:07.03
Jonathan Watts (Kentucky) 1:24.60
Hunter Hutchinson (Louisiana State) 1:26.78
Justin Phillips (Florida) 1:34.09
For the first time all night, thoughts of victory crept into Sears' mind, and it showed in his single buck performance.
He knew he just needed a decent showing, and he'd have a good shot at winning. He willed the long saw back and forth across the log until the cookie fell at his feet. His time of 37.53 seconds was enough to give him the championship by two points.
Watts gave Sears a scare when he posted a time of 33.82 seconds, but there weren't enough competitors between the two for Watts to make up the ground.
Once again, Scarborough won the event (25 seconds), which means he would have had a clean sweep had it not been for the DQ in the stock saw.
Sears was happy but reserved after the victory, telling the cameras he was just happy to be competing, as his teammates and friends called the Hogs in the background.
"I'm ready to practice up for the finals," Sears said. "I just want to go, have fun, meet some new people, and if something good happens, it happens."
Logan Scarborough (North Carolina State) 25
Jonathan Watts (Kentucky) 33.82
Brad Sears (Arkansas Monticello) 37.53
Daniel Brown (Louisiana Tech) 39.31
Justin Phillips (Florida) 39.85