LOPATCONG TWP. -- As far as entertainment value and drama, you couldn't ask for more than we got in Phillipsburg's 34-24 win over Hunterdon Central on Wednesday night in a key Skyland Conference Raritan Division showdown.
The 1,700 or so fans in attendance sure got their money's worth. You had the buildup to and letdown at 220 pounds where Central opted to forfeit, rather than send out unbeaten Victor Lacombe to face Phillipsburg ace Robert Melise for a matchups of state qualifiers. The boos signaled how the fans felt about it, but it was the right move by Red Devils coach Jon Cantagallo-Rohm in order to try and win the dual meet. We will have to wait for that bout on Saturday, when the two are expected to collide in the 220-pound final of the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament at Hopatcong High School.
Also intriguing was how the early matchups came out with each team feeling it was a little short on expected bonus points. Let's look at five key points from a match that gave P'burg a 39-7-1 edge in the all-time series dating to 1962, as it pursues a 21st division championship since joining the Skyland Conference for the 1995-96 school year.
1. They need a hero (or two): Holding an eight-point lead through eight bouts, sophomore Travis Jones turned the match with his 7-2 decision over Hunterdon Central state qualifier Jack Bauer at 113. A peterson-move for five points in the second period erased a 2-0 deficit after Bauer's first-period takedown with 22 seconds left. Bauer took down to start the third period, not a wise choice since Jones is known as a tough mat wrestler, but not so much in the neutral position. Jones scored two more points off a tilt with 35 seconds to go to ice the win.
"I need to work on my feet," said Jones, who many may remember him giving Pope John state medalist Joe Aragona fits on the mat in last year's county tournament. "I take pride in my mat wrestling."
"[Coach] Post told me beforehand that mine was one of the key matches," Jones said. "I wanted to go out and perform and help win the match for us. I wrestled [Bauer] in middle school, but I didn't know he was a state qualifier, only that if I won, I'd be a hero."
Post paid Jones a big compliment after notching his 100th coaching win in seven seasons.
"He's probably the best mat wrestler we've had since Jimmy Schuitema [former 100-match winner and region champion]," Post said. "We knew we had a shot [to win 113]. One of the guys [Jones] beat at the Beast of the East [JJ Wilson of Cedar Cliff] placed [seventh] at Powerade. Jones took third at the Bethlehem Holiday Classic, which is impressive."
2. Hero Part II and III: P'burg junior Lance Wissing keeps coming up with big wins in tough spots and the 138-pounder came through big time with a 6-4 decision against Hunterdon Central senior Bryce Hall. Needing to win one of the last two bouts, Wissing took Hall down right to his back in the second period for a 4-1 lead. With Wissing looking for the fall, Hall amazingly slid quite a few feet off the mat on his back without giving up a pin. After Wissing escaped in the third period for a 5-2 lead, Hall got a takedown off a nice scramble with 25 seconds left, as the Central coaches screamed for Hall to let Wissing go and try for a tying takedown. Instead, Hall chose to tie up and time ran out.
Last season, Wissing started Phillipsburg's run to a 20th state championship with a thrilling 5-3 win in the opening bout of a 40-21 victory over Clearview in the Group 4 final in Toms River.
"Lance is a gamer," Post said. "It was good to see since he's had such a tough start [with an injury] to his season."
Sophomore Jayson Zinsmeister put an exclamation point on the night as he dominated and pinned Mark Dellavalle in the final bout at 145 to seal the Stateliners' win. Zinsmeister got a takedown and racked up eight back points in the first period before getting the fall in 2:33.
"I knew [with the match starting at 152] that it could either start with me getting the ball rolling or I could wind up wrestling at the end," Zinsmeister said. "[The 36-32 loss to Cranford on Saturday] has been in our heads. We're such a bunch of brothers. We knew we didn't get enough bonus points [early [on], but we worked as a team to get them back."
3. Eight is enough: Post likes his team's chances of winning with a 7-7 split, but it turned out that P'burg got eight wins in this one -- thanks to wins at 113 and 138 where Central rated as the favorite. Credit the 'Liners braintrust of Post and assistant coach Scott Silvis for crunching the numbers and putting their wrestlers in the best spot to win.
"Scott and I spent more time going over this match than any other," Post said. "We were looking at the scoreboard and thought we were in a bad spot. But we anticipated [Central] having 15-16 points at the turn [heading into 106], and they only had 14, so not that far off. Then, we knew we had to win eight [bouts]. When they bumped Lacombe, it took away one of the four tossups we thought at heavyweight, 113, 126 and 138. After Nace won [at 126], we just needed one decision and not give up bonus points, and we thought we had a shot at 138. And Zinny wrestled amazing against a solid wrestler."
4. One of those nights: Hunterdon Central has seen this movie too many times before -- a legitimate shot at knocking off P'burg slip away. Coach Jon Cantagallo-Rohm got all of the matchups he wanted essentially, but it still wasn't enough to end a four-match skid in the series.
"We knew on paper that we were a bit of an underdog," said Cantagallo-Rohm, whose team was coming off a big 30-29 victory over Howell on Saturday in what may have been a preview of this season's Group 5 final in February. "Sometimes you relish that role, but tonight was not our night."
The losses at 113 and 138 were particularly puzzling for Central and not being able to secure enough bonus points at 182 and 120 after saving a few at 152 and 170.
"Bauer was wrestling tough and gave up a five-pointer for a big deficit," Cantagallo-Rohm said. "Not getting enough bonus at 120 and 182 was big. We let ones get away, but onward and upward. We still have a lot of season left."
5. Wait for the heavy-weight battle: Both coaches expressed confidence in their star 220-pounders for what should be a great matchup this weekend. Sadly, it never materialized on Wednesday. Melise decked Lacombe in overtime in last year's dual meet -- their only matchup as Lacombe did not compete in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament. Melise finished second in the state and Lacombe was fifth.
"Victor is a much better wrestler than last year," Cantagallo-Rohm said. "But looking at it, we still had a fighting chance and a strong opportunity to seize the match."
Post said they anticipated Lacombe bumping to 285.
"We knew that right away [after winning the flip]. We thought we could get a win at heavyweight [with Justen Caraballo against Central's Angelo Crespo]," Post said. "It would have made it more comfortable for us if Robert wins that match. I'll take having Robert [an unlikely hero in the Group 4 title win over Southern as a sophomore] in a big match anytime."
PHILLIPSBURG 34, HUNTERDON CENTRAL 24
152 -- Jr. Brian Meyer (13-5), P, md. Sr. Chris Taylor (0-8), 16-4.
160 -- Jr. Kevin Ciresa (9-3), HC, md. Jr. Shamyr Brodders (1-6), 9-1.
170 -- Sr. Dan Fisher (6-3), P, d. Fr. Julian Heiligtag (1-3), 7-3.
182 -- Sr. Michael Iodice (9-2), HC, md. So. Austin Roth (1-9), 10-2.
195 -- Sr. Drew Horun (15-3), P, p. Fr. Lukas Bakerian (4-7), 5:40.
220 -- Sr. Robert Melise (11-2), P, forfeit.
285 -- Sr. Victor Lacombe (11-0), HC, p. Sr. Justen Caraballo (4-8), 1:48.
106 -- Jr. Cullen Day (11-5), P, d. Fr. Grant Bloch (1-2), 6-3.
113 -- So. Travis Jones (9-5), P, d. So. Jack Bauer (8-2), 7-2.
120 -- Jr. Hunter Graf (10-0), HC, md. Jr. Tyris Manley (4-4), 8-0.
126 -- Sr. Peter Nace (9-1), HC, d. So. Cody Harrison (6-3), 3-0.
132 -- So. Vincent Romaniello (10-1), HC, d. So. Kyle Tino (4-7), 6-2.
138 -- Jr. Lance Wissing (1-3), P, d. Sr. Bryce Hall (8-4), 6-4.
145 -- So. Jayson Zinsmeister (3-7), P, p. Sr. Mark Dellavalle (3-4), 2:33.
Records -- Hunterdon Central 6-2, 1-2; Phillipsburg 4-1, 3-0.
Referee -- Russ Scorese.