*Photo gallery by Ray Richardson*

ATLANTIC CITY — Through two periods Jake Benner couldn’t get anything going against Bergen Catholic’s Gerard Angelo in the 138-pound NJSIAA state final on Sunday night. Angelo had shut down the Ocean junior’s offense, taken him down twice and even turned him with a tilt for two near-fall points.

Benner was running out of options and time, but in pulling off a move not even he saw coming he stunned the crowd at Boardwalk Hall to become a state champion.

Trailing 6-2 30 seconds into the third period, Benner launched Angelo to his back with a pancake for a five-point move that erased the deficit and gave him a one-point lead. Angelo fought off the pin for 1:18 before a restart with five seconds left. Benner then held on through a Granby attempt by Angelo to win 7-6 and claim the state championship.



“I’ve never hit a big scoring move like that in my life,” Benner said. “I’m not a big-point guy, but it was there and I was down so I had to go for it. I had double under (hooks) and he was on his knees so I switched my left arm over and he was still on his knees. I had to take advantage of that.”

“That kid (Angelo) does all the freestyle stuff and he’s comfortable there, but what I said yesterday is that when you feel comfortable he feels more comfortable,” said Ocean head coach Cippy Apicelli. “He threw a kid that is known for doing stuff like that. (Angelo) was out of position for a second and Jake capitalized on it, and now he’s a state champ.”

Benner is the second Ocean wrestler in program history to win a state title, joining two-time state champion Nick Menditto (2007 and 2008). He was also voted as the co-Most Outstanding Wrestler of the state finals with Bound Brook's Mekhi Lewis.

“I was not expecting (to win like) that,” Benner said. “He came at me so hard, he’s such a tough wrestler. This is so awesome.”

“I’ve been coaching multiple sports since 2008 and that’s the best moment of my coaching life ever,” Apicelli said. “It’s absolutely unbelievable. I’m speechless.”

Ocean's Jake Benner has his hand raised after winning the 138-pound NJSIAA state title. (Photo by Ray Richardson).

Angelo took a 4-1 lead in the first period with a takedown and two back points off a tilt, but Benner was able to escape to get on the board before the period concluded. It was Benner’s choice of position in the second period and he took defense to give him the opportunity to escape and close the deficit, which he did midway through the period. Angelo, however, scored with another takedown to extend his lead to 6-2 after four minutes.

Benner is very dangerous from the top position, so Angelo wisely chose neutral to begin the third period. When the two tied up in the center of the mat Benner found the opening he had been waiting for and drove right through it.

In throwing Angelo to his back for a takedown and three back points Benner now led 7-6, but there was still over a minute left. Angelo fought valiantly to avoid being pinned but Benner was able to keep him from turning over to his stomach, which was huge.

“He takes the lead and there’s a minute-10 maybe and we’re watching to see the pin but also looking at the clock because if that kid gets off his back you now have to ride him for 30 seconds,” Apicelli said.

Before hitting the throw Benner knew he was losing, but by how much, he wasn’t sure. While his muscles worked to keep Angelo glued to the mat, his overloaded brain was busy trying to figure out the score.

Ocean's Jake Benner hit a five-point move in the third period to beat Bergen Catholic's Gerard Angelo, 7-6, and win the 138-pound NJSIAA state championship. (Photo by Ray Richardson).

“Honestly, I was trying to do the math in my head and I couldn’t figure it out,” Benner said. “I was trying to look at coach Cip and maybe he would read my mind and tell me I had to hold him there, but he was just cheering too much where he couldn’t even say anything. I didn’t know it was 7-6 until the restart.”

Angelo getting out of bounds stopped the clock with five seconds left and gave the Bergen Catholic junior one last chance to tie the score, but Benner stuck tight through Angelo’s Granby roll even while smacking his nose on the mat, coming out of it with a merkle in place to hold on for the show-stopping victory.

“It was definitely the scariest five seconds of my life,” Benner said. “I looked at Cip and said ‘should I go merkle?’ and he said no, just do what you do on top. He came up and I actually dropped to a merkle and it worked out.”

In improbable fashion, Jake Benner is a state champion. He is also the first underclassmen from the Shore Conference to win a state title since Toms River South’s B.J. Clagon won the first of his two championships in 2012. But don’t ask him what it feels like, at least not until tomorrow.

“I still can’t describe it,” Benner said. “It hasn’t hit me yet.”


Wrestling editor Bob Badders can be reached at badders@allshoremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.