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STAFFORD TOWNSHIP – Scrambling is a skill, sure, but for the most part, it involves intangibles and uncoachable traits that some wrestlers just have more than others. For the best ones, it is an art. The ability to act and react to sudden changes of angles and leverage within milliseconds can be a thing of beauty. 

Southern’s Conor Collins may be the very best in New Jersey when it comes to scrambling, and he put on a show Thursday night in a marquee matchup that sent the Rams to another big victory. 

In a rematch of last season’s 113-pound NJSIAA state championship match, Collins used a third-period reversal and an edge-of-your-seat rideout to defeat Brick Memorial senior Evan Tallmadge, 3-2, and avenge an overtime loss from the state final. Collins’ triumph was the key bout for the top-ranked Rams, who won eight matches on their way to a 32-22 Shore Conference Class A South victory over the No. 6 Mustangs, the seventh straight win over their longtime division rival. 

“I’ve been thinking about that match since last year and it was great to get the (re)match,” Collins said. “He’s a great opponent and I love wrestling him when I get the chance.” 

“I was confident in the match,” said Southern head coach Dan Roy. “You lose in overtime by one point and if you’re that close with a guy you know you can beat him. He’s been closing the gap every time. I knew it was going to be close, knew it was going to be a tough match. He showed up tonight.” 

Tallmadge, who defeated Collins 2-1 in last season’s dual meet and then won 8-7 in double overtime in the state final, once again started off with the first offensive points when he worked through Collins’ first scramble attempt for a first-period takedown. Collins then escaped to make it 2-1 entering the second period. 

Tallmadge chose bottom to begin the second period and that’s when the fireworks started. The middle period seemed like one continuous scramble with Tallmadge nearly escaping or scoring a reversal on multiple occasions but Collins was able to hold control by the slimmest of margins to complete the rideout and head to the third period down by one.  

It was Collins’ turn to go down to start the third trailing 2-1 and after some more mad scrambling, Collins hit a Peterson roll with 48 seconds left. He exposed Tallmadge’s back for only a one-count but the reversal gave him a 3-2 lead. After a restart with 15 seconds left, Collins held on as Tallmadge went for a reversal in the closing seconds.  

“I was down for a little while so I was a little tired but I knew my elevator was there, I just had to get to it the right way,” Collins said. “I look for the Peterson a lot, too, so when I hooked that up, I knew it was good and I just had to ride him for the rest of the time.” 

A lot of wrestlers wouldn’t want to be in that type of frantic situation but Collins thrives on the chaos. It’s his intention to get the match on the mat and put his opponents in uncomfortable spots.  

“I feel comfortable in scrambles and that’s where I like to go in my matches,” Collins said. “I feel it gives me the best chance to win so I like to provoke them whenever I can, and I feel it showed today.” 

“I feel he’s the best scrambler in the entire state,” Roy said. “I don’t think anyone’s better than him. He just doesn’t stop moving. He has a feel for it and he’s always been like that since he was a little kid. You try to get him to do basics and stuff like that but when it comes to getting in those scrambles, you can’t teach that. You’re trying to get height and keep your height and that’s what wins in those scrambles. And it’s reaction. He’s reacting quicker than guys do in those situations.” 

“That’s just kind of how he wrestles against everyone, he goes for your ankles and spins you and does some weird stuff,” Tallmadge said. “He’s definitely hard to wrestle. My gameplan was really just to stay on offense; he’s not really going to shoot on me. It’s get the first takedown and get out, but I didn’t get out. On top, I let him reverse me, same thing as the state finals where I think there were like three reversals or something crazy like that. I feel I can turn anyone and I tried to, which is kind of stupid. I wrestled his match, tried to scramble with him when I should have just kicked away. I know what to do next match either state finals or state semis whenever I have to wrestle him.” 

A state finals rematch in an early January dual meet is not something you see every day. The gym was rocking when Collins and Tallmadge took the mat and it’s likely not the last time these two will see each other this season. There’s a great chance they’ll wrestle again in the postseason and, looking ahead, they could be college rivals with Tallmadge committed to Navy and Collins committed to Army. 

“I feel like every time we wrestle it’s always back and forth so it could go either way,” Collins said. “I’m just going to keep training and hopefully it goes my way at the end.” 

“He kind of held on a little bit, nothing I could do about that,” Tallmadge said. “I might have had two at the end but no excuses, it’s better to happen now than later. I’ll be back for the states and win it when it matters.” 

The Collins-Tallmadge match was obviously the main event, but there were several other key bouts that shaped the final result. Southern did its thing, winning big and losing small in key matchups. Freshman Scottie Sari won by major decision at 113 pounds, freshman Wyatt Stout won by major decision over Lucas Torre at 126, junior Nick Bennet pinned Braden Scott at 144, and junior Riley O’Boyle secured a match-clinching pin in the penultimate bout at 215 pounds. Southern was also great in close bouts with a 2-0 win by Cole Velardi over Ryan Smith at 150, a 6-3 win by Nate Bischoff over Joshes James at 157, and a 3-2 win by Tyler Chase over Dawson Renna at 165. Additionally, at 138 pounds sophomore Matt Henrich held state champion Anthony Santaniello to a 3-0 decision when Santaniello weighed in and bumped up from his usual spot at 132 pounds.  

“I think we’re in really good shape, and that helps,” Roy said. “Just pushing every day and putting them in situations in the room where you’re in those tight matches and always thinking about those scenarios; down by a point, down by two, have to get out, all those things. You do that as a coach so when they get out there, they’re more prepared for that. And I feel like we have a lot of room to grow, which I feel really good about. We can keep getting better and better.” 

“I think our team did great as a whole, got a lot of bonus when we needed to and limited bonus points,” Collins said. 

Stout and Bennet were particularly impressive. Stout won by 13-4 major decision over Lucas Torre, who was a state qualifier as a sophomore, at 126 pounds. Stout, the son of former Rams head coach John Stout, is now 10-0 on the season.  

“(Torre) is a tough kid who I know hadn’t wrestled yet this season,” Roy said. “Wyatt had some cramping but he settled down and was able to get after his offense on his feet.” 

Bennet has had a knack for coming up with big wins in dual meets and did it again when he locked in a cradle and pinned Scott, a two-time region medalist who was wrestling up a weight.  

“He’s been clutch in a lot of these dual situations,” Roy said. “He doesn’t really get nervous; he just goes out and performs. My hat’s off to him. He had a good shot to win but I didn’t know he was going to pin him. He went for it and he got it.” 

For as well as Southern wrestled, Brick Memorial showed plenty of positives, as well. The Mustangs were in the match the entire way and that’s with Tallmadge losing, Santaniello being held to a decision, and state qualifiers Lucas Torre and Smith also suffering defeats. They showed the kind of grit and lineup depth they will need to compete for the Group 4 title. Freshman Gavin Martin and senior Cory Martin (not related) won close bouts, Jack Torre picked up a win by decision, freshman Harvey Ludington won by fall in a dominant showing at 175 pounds, and senior Sam Azzaretti was impressive with an 8-0 major decision at heavyweight. 



Box Score

No. 1 Southern 32, No. 6 Brick Memorial 22

106: Gavin Martin (BM) d. Sam Pari, 2-0

113: Scottie Sari (S) md. Kenneth Melillo, 8-0

120: Conor Collins (S) d. Evan Tallmadge, 3-2

126: Wyatt Stout (S) md. Lucas Torre, 13-4

132: Jack Torre (BM) d. Chris Lubeski, 9-3

138: Anthony Santaniello (BM) d. Matt Henrich, 3-0

144: Nick Bennet (S) p. Braden Scott, 1:05

150: Cole Velardi (S) d. Ryan Smith, 2-0

157: Nate Bischoff (S) d. Josh James, 6-3

165: Tyler Chase (S) d. Dawson Renna, 3-2

175: Harvey Ludington (BM) p. Kai Wagner, 2:21

190: Cory Martin (BM) d. Collin French, 3-1

215: Riley O'Boyle (S) p. Hector Rivera, 3:35

285: Sam Azzaretti (BM) md. David Casas, 8-0


Check back for an expanded photo gallery by Richard O'Donnell

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