ATLANTIC CITY — With time winding down in double overtime of the NJSIAA 220-pound semifinals and Zack DelVecchio about to have his choice of position in ultimate tiebreaker, Eric Keosseian knew it was now or never.

“Once it got to double overtime I knew I had to get the takedown,” Keosseian said. “I couldn’t go on top there in the next period.”

With time winding down in the second tiebreaker period the Howell senior reached in with a high crotch and locked in on DelVecchio’s left leg. He dumped DelVecchio over his head, swung his hips to stay in bounds and drove the South Plainfield sophomore to his back with one second left to win 4-2 and reach the state finals in a thrilling bout on Saturday night inside Boardwalk Hall.

 

“I knew he was waiting for my single there so as soon as he stepped that leg back I went high crotch and got the takedown,” Keosseian said. “It’s good to finally get there after all the years of hard work. I had a gameplan: get to states sophomore year, place junior year and win it senior year.” Keosseian is right on track with one more mountain to climb. He’ll face Don Bosco Prep junior Peter Acciardi for the NJSIAA 220-pound state championship on Sunday. The finals begin at 3 p.m. at a weight class yet to be determined. After a scoreless first period DelVecchio escaped in the second period to take a 1-0 lead. The point itself wasn’t as big as scoring first, which meant DelVecchio would have choice of position should the bout go to ultimate tiebreaker. Keosseian escaped in the third period to tie the bout 1-1 and force overtime. There was no score in sudden victory so the bout went to rideouts. Keosseian got to his feet a couple times and was almost out when DelVecchio held onto his ankle for dear life. The Rebels wanted a stalling call, but instead a stalemate was whistled. There were just four seconds left on the restart, but Keosseian got to his feet and spun around to face DelVecchio just before the buzzer sounded. The officials conferred and ruled it was an escape for a 2-1 lead.  

“I knew I had to get out there, I had no other choice,” Keosseian said. “It was just instincts. I couldn’t waste any time, I just had to get to my feet. I turned all the way into him so I knew I was out.”

“In a desperate situation you know you have to work more and work harder. In those short-time spots, you have to get those points.”

Keosseian’s win Saturday was reminiscent of his last-second victory over Hunterdon Central’s Victor Lacombe that helped the Rebels win the NJSIAA Group V title for the first time in program history. He carried that momentum into the individual postseason and is now one win away from the ultimate prize.

“That gave me a lot of confidence,” Keosseian said.

Along with teammate Kyle Slendorn, who avenged his only loss of the season to reach the 126-pound state final, Keosseian is Howell’s first state finalist since 2008. The Rebels also had two state finalists that season when current assistant coach Joey Langel won the 112-pound state title and Harry Turner finished second at heavyweight. With sophomore Darby Diedrich wrestling for seventh place at 120 pounds Sunday morning the Rebels have tied a program record for most state medalists, previously achieved in 1973.

“To have two guys in the finals for the first time since 2008, it’s a big deal,” Keosseian said. “And three guys on the podium is the most ever. It’s just great for the program.”

Acciardi is the No. 1 seed and has not lost since suffering both of his defeats this season at the Beast of the East Tournament. Keosseian said he wrestled him three times in the offseason and went 2-1.

“I can’t worry about what he’s going to do,” Keosseian said. “I just have to wrestle my style.”

 

Wrestling editor Bob Badders can be reached at badders@allshoremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.

 

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