TOMS RIVER -- With a state title pinned on his riding ability, there was no way Southern senior Mike Racanelli was going to let his opponent get to his feet.

"I would have stopped breathing before I let him get up," Racanelli said.

Racanelli delivered a critical 2-1 upset over Howell's Peter Dee at 138 pounds with two bouts left, and senior Pat Mooney delivered a walk-off 4-2 decision at 152 pounds as Southern exorcised years of demons with an epic 27-24 victory to win the 2016 NJSIAA Group V championship on Sunday night at Pine Belt Arena.

Southern defeated Howell 27-24 in an instant classic to capture the 2016 NJSIAA Group V title. (Photo by Robert Badders)
Southern defeated Howell 27-24 in an instant classic to capture the 2016 NJSIAA Group V title. (Photo by Robert Badders)

With the match tied 21-21, Racanelli took a 2-1 lead with a reversal with 1:08 left in the third period and rode out Dee the rest of the way to put the Rams in the driver's set.

After the biggest win of his life and victory that will live forever in Southern wrestling lore, Racanelli found it difficult to grasp what he just accomplished.

"I can't, I really can't," Racanelli said. "It's everything everybody ever wanted and we got it done. It feels great. It makes every second I put into this sport worth it."

Howell senior Kris Lindemann won by 7-4 decision over Teddy Caporino at 145 to tie the match at 24, but Mooney was favored over Howell freshman Christian Murphy at 152 and delivered the clinching victory to give Southern its second state title in program history and first since 2005.

"We've been talking about winning a big match at the end since last year when we lost to Howell (in the South Jersey Group V semifinals)," Mooney said. "It came down to me and I knew I was going to get the job done."

Sophomore Matt Barnett also came through with a crucial victory at 126 pounds with a 7-1 decision over Dan Esposito, as the Rams were able to successfully navigate Howell's powerful group of lowerweights to bring home a championship in a classic match.

"I felt very confident going into (Barnett vs. Esposito) and knew he had an opportunity to win that bout," said Southern head coach John Stout. "That didn't surprise me. The biggest win of the night was Mike Racanelli, there's no doubt about it. Nobody thought he was going to win that."

Favored at all of the upper weights except for 220 pounds, Southern jumped out to an 18-3 lead through six bouts. Junior Seon Bowker won by 8-3 decision over Frank Leonardis at 160 pounds and senior Connor Scully won by 8-0 major decision over Brandon Maurice at 170 for a 7-0 lead. Seniors Peyton Blauvelt and Joe Toci followed with major decisions at 182 and 195, respectively, to put the Rams up 15-0. Junior Nick Suriano then held Howell's top upperweight, junior Eric Keosseian, to a 13-7 decision at 220 pounds thanks to a takedown late in the third period. Sophomore Joe Miele pushed the Rams' lead to 15 with a 4-1 decision over Rich Christie at heavyweight.

Southern fretted over the possibility that it didn't get enough bonus points up top, however, and Howell looked like it was going to make the Rams pay dearly. Freshman Darby Diedrich won by 13-3 major decision over Dylan Cardell at 106 pounds and sophomore Kyle Slendorn pinned Owen Kretschmer in just 30 seconds at 113. Just like that, Howell had slashed Southern's lead to 18-13.

"As soon as 106 started I was saying we didn't get enough up top," Stout said "But again, these kids came through. Matt Barnett and Mike Racanelli changed it around for us."

"Of course that goes through your mind, and being as competitive as we are up top and not getting the points we wanted, yeah, it was frustrating," Toci said. "But we had faith in the rest of our guys."

Senior Nick Ciaccia used his dominating top game to turn freshman Nick Pepe four times and notch a 16-0 technical fall at 120 pounds, tying the match at 21. It would go back and forth from there to the end with Barnett winning at 126 before Howell senior Anthony Gagliano, who weighed in at 132 pounds Sunday for the first time all season, defeated Rams senior Gianni Bennett 5-2. Racanelli followed with the win of the year for Southern, and two bouts later the Rams finally got to celebrate a state championship victory.

"This started back in the summer when we had this goal in mind," Toci said. "To be able to accomplish it is amazing."

"They've done this all year," Stout said. "Whenever they've been up against it they've been so consistent and so straightforward with it that it's been an incredible thing."

"We're the first ever Group V state champs for our school, and I know nobody will every forget this moment for the rest of our lives," Racanelli said.


Box Score

Southern 27, Howell 24

160: Seon Bowker (S) d. Frank Leonardis 8-3

170: Connor Scully (S) md. Brandon Maurice 8-0

182: Peyton Blauvelt (S) md. Zack Barnes 14-6

195: Joe Toci (S) md. Ryan Marter 11-3

220: Eric Keosseian (H) d. Nick Suriano 13-7

Hwt: Joe Miele (S) d. Rich Christie 4-1

106: Darby Diedrich (H) md. Dylan Cardell 13-3

113: Kyle Slendorn (H) p. Owen Kretschmer 0:30

120: Nick Ciaccia (H) tf. Nick Pepe 3:30 (16-0)

126: Matt Barnett (S) d. Dan Esposito 7-1

132: Anthony Gagliano (H) d. Gianni Bennett 5-2

138: Mike Racanelli (S) d. Peter Dee 2-1

145: Kris Lindemann (H) d. Teddy Caporino 7-4

152: Pat Mooney (S) d. Christian Murphy 4-2

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