- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The Northern Patriots did not qualify as one of the top four teams into next Wednesday’s Class 4A-3A South Region Duals tournament. Nor did they win the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference regular season title.
But Tuesday in a tri-match hosted by the McDonough Rams, Northern proved why it was capable of accomplishing both lofty exploits, coming up narrowly short in each endeavor.
Northern standout 220-pounder Scott Cross capped an impressive team performance by dramatically pinning Zach Walker 43 seconds into the third period to send the Patriots and their fans into bedlam with a 31-30 comeback win over the rival Huntingtown Hurricanes.
Cross was the favored wrestler in the clash as one of the top-ranked SMAC talents in his weight class, but Walker did not back down with an aggressive mindset through the first two periods, tied at 2, going into the final two minutes.
Anything short of a pin would have only continued a season of what-ifs for Northern, which lost by just four points to North Point and by only a single point to La Plata.
North Point will be hosting the regional duals as the top seed, while La Plata and Huntingtown have also clinched coveted berths into the gathering.
“It feels very good. I know Coach Smith is very happy and I know I’m glowing,” said Cross, who was lifted off his feet with a huge celebratory hug from Northern head coach Matt Smith when the pin was complete. Smith had to keep his other jubilant wrestlers from storming the mat in the seconds before it was obvious that Cross had the pin locked in.
McDonough was easily handled by Northern and Huntingtown by 75-6 and 72-6 outcomes, respectively.
The Northern hero added of completing the comeback over Huntingtown for his team, which was down 27-19 with three bouts left, “I had a feeling I was going to beat [Walker]. I didn’t know if I was going to pin him because he’s very good. I knew I had to get a pin [for our team] to win.”
Northern’s minor upset of a hot Huntingtown team also brought joy to the La Plata Warriors.
An expected comfortable win by La Plata on Thursday in its final regular season match against visiting Great Mills, which finished too late for inclusion into this edition, means the Warriors will win the SMAC regular season crown for a ninth straight year because of their head-to-head victory over North Point in the season opener.
Meanwhile, Huntingtown’s hopes of sharing the SMAC regular season title were spoiled in the heartbreaking loss to Northern. Huntingtown downed La Plata 43-31 on Jan. 19 to put itself in position to share the league bragging rights with North Point and La Plata.
The Huntingtown loss also keeps North Point from sharing in regular season SMAC glory. North Point had beaten Huntingtown, forcing a three-way tie for first place in the league standings with La Plata. But with Huntingtown going down, only two teams remained at the top and La Plata, by virtue of beginning the season with a win over North Point, wins the SMAC regular season title for the second straight year via the head-to-head tiebreaker over North Point.
“We felt like after that La Plata match, we really underachieved. I could fill up a whole hand of opportunities we had to win that match and we just let go [of them],” Smith said of his Northern club that lost 34-33 Jan. 15 to a La Plata team that it matched up better with than Huntingtown ironically enough. “So we really focused on those little things, and tonight we were really overachieved. [Huntingtown] is a very good team from top to bottom with no holes. We had to overachieve to beat them or else it was going to get ugly.”
Northern’s winning formula
The overachieving was all about keeping Huntingtown from maximizing its bonus points, starting at 126 when Max McClean survived what appeared to be a sure pin with him on his back for the final minute of his bout.
His 10-0 loss was only a major decision for Huntingtown instead of a pin, as Northern saved two team points.
At 138, Northern’s Andrew Pasqualle completely turned around a bout he was trailing 5-0 midway through the second period to Dominic Sita. Pasqualle stormed back with nine straight points inside the final three minutes to win by four for a six-point swing in the team points.
At 145, Huntingtown’s Colt Constantino was unable to have his way with Jackson Drum, who nearly pulled off a massive upset with a headlock and backpoints in the final 30 seconds. Drum only lost 9-7.
At 152, Perry Burgess had Jackson Horn on his back inside the final minute with a pin appearing imminent. But Horn did not give in and came away losing 20-10, again Huntingtown settling for a major decision instead of getting what looked to be a pin.
Then at 182, Northern’s Jake Horn registered a critical second-period pin to close his team’s gap to 27-25.
“It was incredible,” Jake Horn said of getting the unexpected pin. “I was really worried about the match. Coach told me I owed him one for missing weight. I just came out and wrestled as hard as I could. I’ve lost like 12 pounds in two days. I was trying to go six minutes as hard as I could.
“For us, [beating these good teams] has always been about keeping our [lost bouts] to a minimum.”
One bout later, Huntingtown newly acquired 195-pound standout Mike Wilkerson, from DeMatha, did not have his way with quality Northern opponent Kyle LaMond. Though slightly favored, Wilkerson escaped with just a 6-4 win to give Huntingtown a 30-25 lead and setting the stage for Cross.
“It’s disappointing. We gave a good team effort, we just didn’t take advantage of places where we could’ve taken advantage and that’s unfortunate,” Huntingtown head coach Kevin Gilligan said. “We had a chance to lock [the win] up earlier in the match. We had kids on their backs, and we couldn’t finish. In two or three weight classes, we had a chance for major decisions and we didn’t take advantage of that. Northern is a very good team. Northern wrestles everybody close, everybody tough.
“We had our opportunities. We lost a 2-2 [bout at 220] on a mistake. The best part of it is, we still have opportunities to compete for other things. We’ll rebound.”
Overshadowed by the intense finish to the match was the marquee bout at 160 that featured two star talents with slightly favored Eric Hoffman edging Huntingtown’s Colton Rowe, 5-4.
One-win McDonough, suffering from depth issues to injuries and academic ineligibility, was forced to forfeit eight times in each of its bouts with Northern and Huntingtown.
“To me, that’s what wrestling is all about,” McDonough head coach BJ Treadway raved about the Northern-Huntingtown matchup. “There was a lot of energy in the gym, which was exciting. It was fun to watch.”