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HOWELL — Ryan Demian didn’t know how many seconds were left, and didn’t want to, actually. He already knew the clock was ticking on Howell’s season.

This wasn’t just win or go home for Demian and the Rebels, it was pin or go home. Nothing short of six points would do for Howell in the final bout of the South Jersey Group V semifinals against Southern. Just when it looked like the Rams were set to pull the upset, Demian finally found what he was looking for.

Howell’s senior heavyweight locked in a power half - his signature hold - on Southern sophomore Josh Bento and muscled him over to his back, pressing his shoulders to the mat with just eight seconds to spare in the third period to set off a raucous celebration as the Rebels stunned the Rams, 25-24, Wednesday night to reach the NJSIAA South Jersey Group V championship match.

“That was too close,” a spent Demian said immediately following his match-clinching pin. “He kind of clammed up, but I had a lot behind me. All the work we put in thus far - we’ve worked too hard to let it end like that right here.”

Knowing he needed to just stay off his back to secure the victory for the Rams, Bento was doing a great job of limiting any openings for Demian. But with 15 seconds to go in Howell’s season, Demian capitalized.

Howell senior Ryan Demian won by fall at heavyweight with just eight seconds left to give Howell a heart-stopping 25-24 win over Southern in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group V semifinals. (Photo by Karen Lindemann).

“He really wrestled the way his coaches wanted him to and stayed tight underneath, because he knew what was coming,” Demian said. “He got gassed. We put in a lot of work in the room so in positions like that we can come through. Something just clicked and I yanked that ankle up and went for it. He slipped up and I capitalized on it.”

“We knew Demian could get the pin if he got on top,” said Howell senior Nick Lurski. “We got a little nervous, but once we saw him hook it we knew big things were about to happen.”

Pat Ferraro’s 7-3 decision over Eric Keosseian at 220 pounds had given Southern a 24-19 lead heading into the final bout. Demian had gone over this potential scenario in his head since the 106-pound weight class was drawn to start the match, and now here he was with Howell’s championship hopes riding on his shoulders.

“I wanted the ball,” Demian said. “As soon as they picked 106 to start, I started thinking if it came down to me I have to show up for my team. It was on my mind the whole time. As we got to the upperweights coach (Todd) Going brought us together and said the lightweights bring us up in most of our matches and it’s time for the big guys to close this one out.”

“He’s capable of pinning and we knew that,” said Howell head coach John Gagliano. “Winning a decision wasn’t going to do it. We had one option. I’m proud of him handling that pressure.”

Howell now advances to face top-seeded Brick Memorial in the South Jersey Group V championship match on Friday at 7 p.m.. The two teams have not met since the Rebels defeated the Mustangs in last season’s Central Jersey Group IV final. Whichever team wins will be the overwhelming favorite to win the overall Group V title on Sunday in Trenton.

Wednesday’s match was just as tight as the regular season meeting Howell won 29-21 over the Rams. The teams split the bouts seven-all and Southern won two of the three overtime bouts. The Rebels jumped out to an early lead before the Rams came storming back to set the stage for a dramatic ending. Both teams wrestled without top starters as Howell was without junior Kris Lindemann and Southern did not have senior Frank Amiano, both of whom were injured. Lindemann has not wrestled since the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals, but Gagliano said he will “be ready to go on Friday.''

Southern senior Matt Wilhelm won by 19-4 technical fall over David Nocks at 152 pounds to give Southern its first lead of the match, 15-13, with six bouts left to wrestle. It was back and forth from there with Demian’s bonus points being the difference. Southern’s Seon Bowker won 3-1 in sudden victory over Anthony Pozsonyi at 160 pounds with a takedown with one second left to extend the Rams’ lead to 18-13, but Lurski closed the gap to two points by besting Joe Toci, 6-2, at 170 pounds.

Southern gained a crucial victory at 182 pounds when Peyton Blauvelt edged Austin Silverstein, 2-1 in sudden victory. There were no offensive points scored in the bout, and Blauvelt won when Silverstein was called for his second stall during the sudden victory period. Twin brother Sean Silverstein came through with a must-have win at 195 with a 7-3 decision over Connor Scully to keep Howell alive.

Howell (26-1) raced out to a 10-0 lead after three bouts. Freshman Kyle Slendorn remained undefeated with a 12-1 major decision over Owen Kretschmer at 106 pounds before senior Mikey Sisolak regrouped to defeat Matt Barnett 6-4 in double overtime at 113 pounds. Barnett rallied to send the bout into overtime with two third-period takedowns, including one with 12 seconds left, but Sisolak’s reversal in the first tiebreaker period provided the difference.

At 120 pounds, Howell junior Peter Dee won a crucial toss-up bout with Chris Crane, 3-0, to put the Rebels up 10-0. He rode Crane out in the second period and held on in the third while leading 1-0. His takedown came just before the buzzer as Crane went for a desperation throw.

The Rams would win three of the next four bouts to close the gap to 13-10 before the match reached Wilhelm at the midway mark. Gianni Bennett defeated Nick Ciaccia 7-3 at 126 pounds with two takedowns in the first period and another int he second. With both Knoeller and Lindemann out of their respective lineups, 132 pitted Howell freshman Daniel Esposito and Southern junior Mike Racanelli. Esposito got the first takedown, but Racanelli came roaring back on his way to a 13-3 major decision.

Rebels junior Anthony Gagliano was bumped up from his normal 132 weight class to fill Lindemann’s void, and defeated Cale Mollenkopf 4-0 to push Howell’s lead to 13-7. Southern junior Pat Mooney used a third-period escape to defeat Jake Esposito, 3-2, and cut Howell’s lead to 13-10.

After Wilhelm’s victory, the match ventured into the land of toss-ups, and of course the teams split the remaining bouts. The difference between elation and excruciation was Demian’s thunderous pin. Howell was eight seconds away from packing its bags and turning the lights out for good. Now, the Rebels are still very much alive in their quest for the program’s first NJSIAA group championship.

“This is where all the hard work pays off,” Demian said. “The grueling hours where you’re thinking about quitting, it all runs through your mind. It’s a moment like this where it all pays off.”


Box Score

Howell 25, Southern 24

106: Kyle Slendorn (H) md. Owen Kretschmer 12-1

113: Mikey Sisolak (H) d. Matt Barnett 6-4 2OT

120: Peter Dee (H) d. Chris Crane 3-0

126: Gianni Bennett (S) d. Nick Ciaccia 7-3

132: Mike Racanelli (S) md. Daniel Esposito 13-3

138: Anthony Gagliano (H) d. Cale Mollenkopf 4-0

145: Pat Mooney (S) d. Jake Esposito 3-2

152: Matt Wilhelm (S) tf. David Nocks 5:50 (19-4)

160: Seon Bowker (S) d. Anthony Pozsonyi 3-1 OT

170: Nick Lurski (H) d. Joe Toci 6-3

182:  Peyton Blauvelt (S) d. Austin Silverstein 2-1 OT

195: Sean Silverstein (H) d. Connor Scully 7-3

220: Pat Ferraro (S) d. Eric Keosseian 7-3

Hwt: Ryan Demian (H) p. Josh Bento 5:52

Records: at Howell (26-1); Southern (14-6).