ATLANTIC CITY - When Keansburg wrestling assistant Dave Alsieux initially met Tyree Sutton, he was disappointed that he wouldn't get a chance to work with him.

"When I first saw him, he looked like a great athlete, but he told me graduated,'' Alsieux said. "I thought he was talking about high school. He meant eighth grade. I was like, 'What the...? Are you serious?!'''

Alsieux saw an athlete with tremendous potential at a young age at a wrestling program that had never produced a state place-winner in its history at that time. Four years later, Sutton is now one win away from becoming the Titans' first state champion after beating Queen of Peace's Jeff Velez 4-2 at 195 with an overtime takedown on Saturday at Boardwalk Hall in the NJSIAA Individual Championships.

"Like I told people from the beginning, I'm just trying to make history,'' Sutton said. "I've got 99 wins, one more to 100, so that's what I'm aiming for. I've got that chip on my shoulder."

His showdown with Holy Cross's Matt Valenti in Sunday's finals, which start at 3 p.m., will be a match-up of wrestlers who are both 42-0 this season.

"He's a great opponent,'' Sutton said. "He's only a junior, so he's got next year."

Keansburg senior Tyree Sutton (left) is one win away from becoming the Titans' first state champion and first wrestler to reach 100 wins. (Photo by Scott Stump)

Alsieux, who wrestled at Manasquan and then at Centenary College, has been Sutton's workout partner in practice for much of his career. He has helped mold a raw athlete into a dominant defensive wrestler who has not surrendered a takedown, reversal or any offensive point the entire season. Both of Velez's points on Saturday came on escapes.

"I was fresh out of wrestling in college so I beat him up a little bit at first,'' Alsieux said. " He said he liked the sport and wanted to improve. He really deserves this."

Sutton decided not to play football this fall to focus solely on finishing his goal of winning a state title after becoming the first state place-winner in Keansburg history last season when he took sixth at 195. Even though no Titans wrestler had ever won a Region VI title or a state title, Sutton was almost expected to do both this season because of his prodigious talent. He accomplished the Region VI portion, so now there's just one more item on his checklist, and he has taken the pressure in stride.

Sutton stayed calm after getting ridden out in the third period to win on an overtime takedown. (Photo by Scott Stump)

"Tyree is probably the most confident person I know,'' Alsieux said. "When he puts his mind to something athletically, he's going to get it done. He came in and said he's going to make the finals and I believed him. My hair stood up on my arms when he did it. He never looks nervous."

That was on full display Saturday as Velez rode him out for the entire third period to keep it tied 2-2. Velez had escaped from bottom in the second period before Sutton took him down and then eventually cut him loose to tie it at two. Scoring in sudden victory was crucial because Sutton didn't want it to get into the rideout period after being unable to get out from bottom in the third period.

"I've wrestled that kid three times, and he beat me in overtime the same way - kept dropping down to an ankle,'' Sutton said. "That was the first time I didn't go to the rideout period, so I'm glad I got the win and the takedown. Every time we've wrestled there was never a takedown in the match (before Saturday). It was just let-ups to get escapes."

Velez took a shot right off the whistle in overtime, and Sutton expertly countered it, spinning around for the takedown and the win before giving a big hug to Alsieux in celebration.

"I wasn't (expecting that shot), but my defense is very outstanding I like to think,'' Sutton said.

There's nothing Sutton loves more than a challenge. After wrestling at 220 for most of the season and beating many of the state's top contenders at that weight, he took what many considered the harder road by deciding to go at 195 in the state tournament. He also wanted to show colleges that he can fit right in their lineup as a 197-pounder at the next level.

"I felt like it was more competitive at this weight class,'' he said. "I like the competition. I also like rankings, and I want to be No. 1 in the country. I'm going to keep wrestling until I am."

Sutton cruised through the bracket before the nail-biter with Velez, beating Scotch Plains-Fanwood's Alex Mirabella 12-1 in the pre-quarterfinals on Friday night, then handling St. Joseph-Montvale's Michael Carfagno 6-2 in the quarterfinals on Saturday morning.

"This is what he wanted,'' Keansburg head coach Chris DeTalvo said. "He wanted to win what he thought was a better weight class."

He also wanted to win it in a Keansburg singlet. He had plenty of entreaties to leave the tiny Group I school in a town that is one square mile and transfer to a state powerhouse with a wrestling room loaded with talent, but he chose to stay put.

"I have the whole town supporting me,'' Sutton said. "They're probably blowing up my Facebook right now. A great staff, the coaches, they do everything for me, teachers, administration, they love me there, so why not stay?"

"He could wrestle anywhere in the state and be their No. 1,'' Alsieux said. "He's one of the best wrestlers in the country, and I'm so glad he stayed. I think a lot of people have been on his side and in his corner, and this is for everybody in Keansburg."

It's been quite a journey for Sutton, from the ups and downs of winning a District title as a freshman, sitting out while academically ineligible as a sophomore, becoming a father before his junior year and then becoming the first Titan to stand on the podium in Atlantic City last winter. That raw, overgrown eighth-grader that Alsieux took under his wing is now one win from immortality.

"I'm getting choked up talking about it,'' Alsieux said. "(During his matches) I'm sweating, I'm crying. I care for him. He's like family, so I feel like I'm out there with him. Now there's only one thing left for him to do."