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TOMS RIVER -- The success of Southern Regional's wrestling program has been well documented with several team state championships and individual state champions to its credit. But on Sunday night, the Rams found a way to do something they've never done before.

A key win in sudden victory by freshman Nick Bennet at 126 pounds and pins by Conor Collins, Matt Brielmeier, Eddie Hummel and Robert Woodcock sent Southern to a 38-24 win over Manalapan to claim the NJSIAA Group 5 state title, giving the Rams back-to-back state championships for the first time in program history.

It is the fourth overall state title for Southern, which finished the season with a 20-1 record and avenged its only loss of the season by defeating Toms River North in the South Jersey Group 5 semifinals.

After winning a stacked South Jersey Group 5 section that included Howell and Toms River North, putting three of the top public schools in New Jersey in one section, it was anticipated that the Rams would coast to a second consecutive Group 5 title. That certainly seemed to be the case after a 63-6 wipeout of North 1, Group 5 sectional champ Passaic Tech. But Manalapan, which won its first sectional title since 1992 and then defeated Watchung Hills to reach a group final for the first time since 1991, did not simply step aside and let the Rams pass.

Senior JT Cornelius staked the Rams to a 4-0 lead, using three takedowns and one reversal to deliver a 9-1 major decision over George Zavalnik at 220 pounds. Manalapan answered when Matt Kovacs grinded out a 1-0 win over Jayden Smith at heavyweight.

The bonus brigade started for Southern at 106 pounds where standout freshman Conor Collins scored a fall over Anthony Vitola in just 68 seconds, giving Southern a 10-3 lead. Once again Manalapan answered as Jason Schifter defeated Pat Iacoves, 10-6, at 113 pounds.

At 120 pounds, Southern senior Jayson Scerbo utilized a takedown at the end of the first period and another in the second to clip Chris Balzano, 4-2, and give the Rams a 13-6 lead through five bouts. Southern had some hammers on the horizon but Manalapan was keeping it close and had a chance to further trim its deficit at 126 pounds where junior Calvin Burke squared off against Southern freshman Nick Bennet.

Burke came out strong with an early takedown and went to work on top. It looked like it could be a long bout for Bennet after he was ridden out for the remainder of the opening period. But Bennet was in a situation he had been in before. The frosh has been an integral piece for Southern all season, weighing down at 120 pounds to give the Rams flexibility and often asked to save bonus against an opponents' top wrestler. This time, he would do more than that.

Burke chose defense to start the second period and it was the last time he would see daylight. Bennet rode him out for the rest of the second period and forced two stalling calls, the second of which gave him a point and cut Burke's lead to 2-1. It was Bennet's choice in the third and it was an easy call. He was staying on top. Bennet mirrored the prior two minutes with a tremendous ride, forcing another stalling call with 47 seconds left in regulation to tie the bout 2-2 and force sudden victory.

Right of the whistle to begin sudden victory overtime, Bennet shot in and grabbed a hold of Burke's leg. A brief scrambled ensued before Bennet gained control, giving him the winning takedown and a thrilling 6-4 win to give Southern a 16-6 lead. Now, the gates were wide open.

Junior Matt Brielmeier followed by locking in a cradle and pinning Manalapan freshman Vincent DePierro in 1:56. Then at 138, undefeated junior Eddie Hummel hit a devastating headlock to throw and pin Jason Porcaro in 52 seconds, pushing Southern's lead to 28-6.

Manalapan applied a tourniquet at 145 when senior Hunter Konstantoulas won by 10-1 major decision over Leighton Fessman to make it 28-10, but Southern freshman Cole Velardi equaled the bonus points with a 12-3 victory over James Grande at 152 to give Southern a 32-10 lead with four bouts left.

Manalapan needed 23 out of a possible 24 points in the remaining bouts to win and undefeated senior Matt Benedetti came through with a 15-0 technical fall in 2:34 over Colin Boero at 160 pounds but Southern, having won the pre-match flip, was able to move senior Robert Woodcock away from Benedetti and up to 170 pounds. It took Woodcock just 1:34 to snap on a cradle, pin John Castro and clinch the state championship.

Manalapan won the final two bouts as Dylan Waller edged Ben LoParo, 3-2 at 182 pounds, and Gavin Claro won by fall over Stephen Jennings at 195.


Group 5 Final

Southern 38, Manalapan 24

220JT Cornelius (Southern Regional) over George Zavalnik (Manalapan) Maj 9-1
285Matt Kovacs (Manalapan) over Jayden Smith (Southern Regional) Dec 1-0
106Conor Collins (Southern Regional) over Anthony Vitola (Manalapan) Fall 1:08
113Justin Schifter (Manalapan) over Pat Iacoves (Southern Regional) Dec 8-1
120Jayson Scerbo (Southern Regional) over Chris Balzano (Manalapan) Dec 4-2
126Nick Bennet (Southern Regional) over Calvin Burke (Manalapan) SV-1 4-2
132Matt Brielmeier (Southern Regional) over Vincent DePierro (Manalapan) Fall 1:55
138Eddie Hummel (Southern Regional) over Jason Porcaro (Manalapan) Fall 0:52
145Hunter Konstantoulas (Manalapan) over Leighton Fessman (Southern Regional) Maj 10-1
152Cole Velardi (Southern Regional) over James Grande (Manalapan) Maj 12-3
160Matt Benedetti (Manalapan) over Colin Boero (Southern Regional) TF 15-0
170Robert Woodcock (Southern Regional) over John Castro (Manalapan) Fall 1:24
182Dylan Waller (Manalapan) over Ben LoParo (Southern Regional) Dec 3-2
195Gavin Claro (Manalapan) over Stephen Jennings (Southern Regional) Fall 3:08


Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at 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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