Nick Rivera’s Decision Over Brody Graham at Heavyweight Clinched No. 2 Brick Memorial’s Epic 27-26 Victory over No. 3 Jackson Memorial
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BRICK TOWNSHIP — The black, red and white of Jackson Memorial, and the green, gold and black of Brick Memorial. The singlets of these two Shore Conference wrestling powerhouses remain the same, but the wrestlers who don them each year, the heroes in waiting, you just never know who they’re going to be.
The Jaguars and Mustangs turned in another match for the ages Wednesday night at Brick Memorial, and it was a pair of unheralded Mustangs wrestlers who delivered the biggest wins of their lives.
Seniors Joe Stowers and Kyle Poling won overtime bouts at 170 and 220 pounds, both must-wins for the Mustangs, to set up sophomore Nick Rivera’s match-clinching 6-2 decision over Brody Graham at heavyweight. The Mustangs, ranked No. 2 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, edged the No. 3 Jaguars, 27-26, in an epic Shore Conference Class A South match that clinched at least a tie for the division title by Brick Memorial.
Rivera and Graham took to the mat with each sporting perfect records on the season, and with just one more bout following theirs, this was do-or-die. The Mustangs led by four, but a win would’ve pulled the Jaguars to within one with heavy favorite Matt McGowan waiting at 106 pounds. Graham was up 1-0 in the third period by virtue of a second-period escape, and while on top in the third period, worked a half-nelson and began to turn Rivera to his back. The air was about to be sucked out of the gymnasium, and it seemed like everything starting moving in slow motion.
Graham got a one-count from referee Ed Tonneson, but then his hand stopped. It looked like Rivera was going to be pinned, and at the very least Graham would pile on three huge near-fall points. But Rivera wasn’t on his way to being flat, he was making his move. He swung his right arm free, hooking Graham’s leg before bringing his left arm around Graham’s head, completing the stunning five-point Peterson Roll to grab a 5-1 lead with under a minute left in the bout. Rivera would hold on to win 6-2, putting the Mustangs up by seven points with one bout left and allowing them to forfeit at 106 and hold on for the heart-stopping victory.
“I just willed (the pin) off - I don’t even remember,” Rivera said. “I wasn’t thinking, I was just trying to get off. I felt his head and I didn’t want to give up backs so I was fighting, and I got there.
“You gotta wrestle tough and hard-nosed, and keep working through no matter where you are. You can never give up, and I hope I showed that today.”
“I think it’s just from scrapping on the mat and wrestling every day doing what he does best,” said Brick Memorial head coach Mike Denver of Rivera’s punctual Peterson. “We’ve really been working on his movement, and on bottom he’s no joke. Not for nothing, I think he moves like a 145- or 152-pounder on bottom. To come out of that on top was huge.”
Rivera had to wait not-so-patiently for his chance, however. For him to clinch the match without earning bonus points, Brick Memorial needed Poling to win at 220 against Jaguars junior Adante Davis. Poling is a part-time varsity starter who entered with a 3-3 record while Davis came in with a 12-4 mark.
“The pressure, I can deal with it,” Poling said. “When I have more pressure on me, it makes me happier to go out there and wrestle.”
After several wild sequences in the third period, the bout went to sudden victory overtime tied 1-1. Poling shot for a double-leg early, but Davis blocked it off and nearly turned it into his own takedown before the two circled out of bounds. Off the restart, Poling tried to drop down for an outside single, but Davis sprawled and looked to work off a head-and-arm for a quick go-behind. Poling circled with him and eventually caught Davis off balance and hung on to his right leg for dear life.
Poling then quickly spun around to grab Davis around the waist as the pair rose to their feet. Davis tried to step toward the boundary and break the grasp of Poling, but the Mustangs senior dropped down around Davis’ ankles while keeping his feet in bounds. Davis had nowhere to go, and once he fell to the mat and Tonneson’s hand went up with two fingers, the crowd exploded.
“I didn’t really have that much energy,” Poling said. “All I know is I saw coach and I thought about it, like my brother (2014 Region VI 220-pound champ and state medalist Tyler Poling) tells me: ‘You have to wrestle smart and do the best you can every time.' If he shot on me and it was a bad shot, I was going to do whatever I could to get him down.”
Poling’s 3-1 victory put the Mustangs up 24-20 with two bouts left.
“After I got that two, I went nuts,” Poling said. “It was probably the best feeing I could ever have.”
Before the heroics by Poling and Rivera, Stowers pulled an upset absolutely no one saw coming at 170 pounds. The senior entered with a 5-7 record, and opposed Jackson senior Jarret DiGiantomasso, the District 21 runner-up at 152 pounds last season who came in with an 8-4 mark.
After a scoreless first period, Stowers showed a solid top game in riding out DiGiantomasso for 1:58. The Jags senior escaped just before the buzzer sounded to end the second period, giving him a 1-0 lead heading to the third. DiGiantomasso, like most of Jackson’s wrestlers, is Velcro with limbs in the top position. The question of whether Stowers could even get out was legitimate.
DiGiantomasso rode Stowers well, but the Mustangs senior was getting close to escaping. Along the way, DiGiantomasso had accumulated two caution calls, which would come into play in a big way later in the bout. Off a restart with under 30 seconds left in the third period, Stowers got to his feet and walked toward the boundary as he tried to peel DiGiantomasso’s hands from his waist.
DiGiantomasso dropped down for a single as he had done for most of the third, seemingly countering Stowers’ attempt to break free. But as DiGiantomasso rose to his feet, Stowers used an underhook with his left arm, dropped down to hook DiGiantomasso’s right leg and rolled through for the reversal and a 2-1 lead as time ticked down.
DiGiantomasso quickly recovered and kept his grip on Stowers’ left leg, and Stowers, not knowing if he had the two or just one for the escape, pushed DiGiantomasso away. The escape tied the bout at two and sent it to overtime.
“I had no idea what was going on, no idea,” Stowers said of the end of regulation. “I was just wrestling and it played out in my favor.
“I really felt I was doing good on bottom in the third, and felt like I could get out when I wanted to. He was sticking to the single when I was standing up, but I felt like I would get out if he wasn’t hanging on to that, and that’s where it (confidence) started.”
After a scoreless sudden victory period in which both wrestlers nearly won the bout with takedowns, Stowers started the first tiebreaker on bottom, and a third caution call on DiGiantomasso resulted in a point for a 3-2 Stowers lead. He then hit a reversal to take a 5-2 lead, and rode DiGiantomasso out in the next 30-second period for a stunning, dramatic and critical victory.
“Our coaches have been working on a lot of bottom stuff, so I just followed what they’ve been saying and it worked out,” Stowers said.
“It was fantastic to see Stowers actually go out there and wrestle,” Denver said. “I said it last week, he’s starting to believe in himself and wrestle the way he should, and tonight proves it. He’s starting to gain that confidence and gain that mental edge.”
A win like that, in that moment, is the stuff wrestlers live for.
“It’s the best I’ve ever felt, definitely,” Stowers said. “I feel great right now.”
What made Stowers’ victory so necessary were three victories in four bouts by Jackson from 132 to 152 that cut Brick Memorial’s lead to 13-12. Junior Mike Christie, sophomore Tim Hamann and senior Sean Leahey won overtime bouts to help the Jags dig out of an early hole and put the Mustangs back on their heels. Christie’s 4-3 ultimate tie-breaker win over Luke Vescovi at 132 and Hamann’s 8-6 win in sudden victory over Anthony Mitchell at 138 were toss-up bouts, but at 152 Brick Memorial senior Rob Ruggiero was certainly favored over Leahey.
Christie outlasted Vescovi by riding him out in the second tie-breaker period and again in the ultimate tie-breaker to bring Jackson to within 9-6 four bouts in. Mitchell threw Hamann to his back in the second period, nearly finishing him off with a pin, while grabbing a 5-1 lead. Hamann drew closer with an escape and a takedown to make it 5-4, however. A penalty point against Hamann pushed Mitchell’s lead to 6-4, but Hamann scored a takedown at the buzzer in the third period to tie the bout at six and force overtime. He took down Mitchell midway through sudden victory to win 8-6 and tie the match 9-9.
Senior Alec Donovan stopped the bleeding for the Mustangs with a 15-4 major decision over Hunter Reese at 145 pounds, and with a 13-9 lead and the Ruggiero twins yet to wrestle, Brick Memorial looked to be in great shape.
Leahey threw a monkey wrench into their plans, however, by defeating Ruggiero 6-4 in sudden victory to cut Brick Memorial’s lead to 13-12. Ruggiero led 4-2 after one period with two takedowns, but an escape in the second by Leahey coupled with a penalty point for a technical violation knotted the score at four. Leahey then rode out Ruggiero in the third period to force overtime. After a scoreless sudden victory period, Leahey scored a reversal with 15.8 seconds left in the first tiebreaker to take a 6-4 lead, and he held on for the clutch victory.
The fine line between winning and losing, and the fact that every bout mattered was perfectly illustrated in the next match-up when Cliff Ruggiero won by 23-8 technical fall over Kyle Johnson at 160 pounds. The Mustangs wanted a pin, obviously, and the dangerous Ruggiero was certainly capable, but piling up points for a major decision was the first order of business. Ruggiero led 6-3 after the first period and 12-4 after the second, taking Johnson down and letting him up at will.
With an eight-point lead and the four team points currently in hand, Ruggiero tried to work for the pin in the third period. Johnson wasn’t giving him any options though, and after a lengthy sequence that resulted in a stalemate, Brick Memorial’s coaches decided it was time to chase the technical fall.
There were just 43 seconds left in the bout, though. This was going to have to happen quickly. Ruggiero got one takedown, then another, then one more. He piled up five takedowns in the third period, including four in the final 20 seconds of the bout. His 10th and final takedown came with one second left, giving the Mustangs five huge team points heading into 170 pounds.
Jackson weighed junior Mike Spino in at 120 pounds, up a weight from his usual 113 where he was 16-3 entering Wednesday’s match. What the Jaguars were planning to do there was the question, and with the match starting at 113 pounds their cards would be on the table immediately. One possible scenario was running McGowan (15-3 at 106) up to face standout sophomore Gianni Ghione (16-1), last season’s Region VI champ at 106 pounds, while wrestling junior Jared Mullin at 106, where he would’ve still been favored against Brick Memorial freshman Matt Wardlaw.
Jackson sent Mullin out at 113, hoping to avoid as much bonus as possible but essentially conceding six points. Ghione delivered with the match’s only pin, decking Mullin with a cradle in 1:52.
The plan was to have McGowan waiting at 106 to close the match, where he likely would’ve won by fall, and having Spino and senior Fred Terranova win at 120 and 126, respectively. Brick Memorial thwarted that when senior Luis Bocalman won by 6-2 decision over Spino at 120 to give Brick Memorial a 9-0 lead. Terranova got an escape in the third period to break a scoreless tie, then took down Jose Bocalman for an eventual 3-1 victory at 126, but Brick Memorial led 9-3 and was still in the driver’s seat.
That’s when things started to get crazy, and didn’t stop until Rivera walked off the mat after clinching the win. After Stowers’ win at 170 gave Brick Memorial a 21-12 lead, Jackson Memorial sophomore Tanner Kelly and senior Connor Bohringer won back-to-back 8-0 major decisions over Bobby Mitler and Connor Owen at 182 and 195, respectively, to make it 21-20 with three bouts left.
The rest is history. The Mustangs clinched at least a share of the A South division title, their 16th division title overall, and can win the title outright for the first time since 2001 with a victory over No. 8 Southern on Friday. Although this match didn’t carry the weight of some prior Shore Conference Tournament and state sectional meetings, it’s one those involved won’t soon forget.
Add it to the list of unforgettable moments between the two New Jersey wrestling powerhouses. There will surely be future matches between the Jaguars and Mustangs just like this, that much can be counted on. Who will provide the seminal moment, well, that’s the question.
It could be anybody.
Same singlets. Different heroes. One amazing rivalry.
No. 2 Brick Memorial 27, No. 3 Jackson Memorial 26
113: Gianni Ghione (BM) p. Jared Mullin 1:52
120: Luis Bocalman (BM) d. Mike Spino 6-2
126: Fred Terranova (JM) d. Jose Bocalman 3-1
132: Mike Christie (JM) d. Luke Vescovi 4-3 UTB
138: Tim Hamann (JM) d. Anthony Mitchell 8-6 SV
145: Alec Donovan (BM) md. Hunter Reese 15-4
152: Sean Leahey (JM) d. Rob Ruggiero 6-4 TB-2
160: Cliff Ruggiero (BM) tf. Kyle Johnson 5:59 (23-8)
170: Joe Stowers (BM) d. Jarret DiGiantomasso 5-2 TB-2
182: Tanner Kelly (JM) md. Bobby Mitler 8-0
195: Connor Bohringer (JM) md. Connor Owen 8-0
220: Kyle Poling (BM) d. Adante Davis 3-1 SV
Hwt: Nick Rivera (BM) d. Brody Graham 6-2
106: Matt McGowan (JM) by forfeit
Records: at Brick Memorial (10-1, 5-0); Jackson Memorial (11-3, 4-2).