Danny Walker could barely make his way off the floor.

LAKELAND — Danny Walker could barely make his way off the floor.

As the Lake Gibson wrestling coach meandered through the crowded gym at The Reservation on Thursday night, he was met with smiles, handshakes and congratulations from the Braves fans in attendance. Walker met each with an ear-to-ear grin after his Lake Gibson team knocked off rival Brandon 40-23 in the Class 2A regional duals finals.

By the time he made it back to the wrestling room, he was mobbed by his team.

Maybe this is finally the Braves’ year, Walker wondered.

“I didn’t really know what to expect,” he said. “We’ve wrestled them so many times over the past few years and we’ve beaten them before and they always come back to get us when it really means something.”

Not this time.

“Every guy stepped up in one way or another, even the guys that lost, they stepped up,” Walker added. “It really means a lot to us, it means a lot to the program and it means a lot that we’re going to the first-ever FHSAA dual meet state tournament.”

Click here to view FHSAA Class 2A Bracket

Ranked as the No. 2 team in the state by WrestlingNation.com, the Braves beat the third-ranked Eagles for the second time in a month to punch their ticket to the FHSAA state quarterfinals at Kissimmee Osceola on Jan. 19.

Lake Gibson won by a comfortable margin, but Brandon led 13-3 in the early going. Miguel Hernandez got the ball rolling after grinding out a win over Broc Spurling at 160 before Brandon forfeited its match against Ashton Habeil.

The gym exploded as Caden Cunningham (182) and De’Yaveyun Joseph (195) came away with back-to-back pins for the Braves.

“That’s what we were hoping,” Walker said. “I told them, just stay patient, keep the matches coming through that point. If you keep the matches close and we don’t give up any pins, we’ll take care of the business when we get up top.”

Connor Williams had knee surgery before the season and spent the early portions of the year working his way back. The sophomore lost to Brandon’s Tyler Forrest in districts last week, but responded with a win at 113 pounds on Thursday.

“When my team has the momentum, I don’t want to be the one that breaks it,” he said. “I want to keep the momentum going and I want to be there for my team and win my matches to keep the momentum going.”

Lake Gibson beat Tampa Robinson 61-11 in the first round, while Brandon knocked off Tampa Jesuit 52-21.