by Tom Utescher

After Penn Charter’s Joey Woodruff (right) attempted a stand-up escape in the 171 lb. match last Tuesday, he was brought back down to the mat by CHA’s Dan Gallagher. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

The calendar page had been flipped to February, but the Chestnut Hill Academy Blue Devils and the Penn Charter Quakers were both still in search of their first Inter-Ac League wrestling victory of the season.

When the two teams squared off last Tuesday, visiting CHA owned a 21-12 lead halfway through the meet, but Penn Charter pulled ahead to win, 36-27. That left CHA (3-6 overall in dual meets) with one more shot to notch a league victory (against Malvern Prep), while Charter (3-4) had a bout with Episcopal Academy remaining on its schedule.

Chestnut Hill has had trouble filling some of the lighter weight classes for much of the season, and had to forfeit three matches last Tuesday. The Quakers are normally well-staffed, but 103 lb. Etienne Dumas missed the CHA meet due to illness, while another sophomore, 145 lb. Eric Berger, had to sit out the showdown with the Devils.

Berger has been one of PC’s most successful wrestlers in invitational tournaments and non-league meets, but since he just transferred into Penn Charter this year from Abington High School, he is not eligible for Inter-Ac competition until next winter.

The Quakers filled the 145 lb. spot last Tuesday, but forfeited at 103 and 215, while there were mutual forfeits by the two teams at 112 and 125 lbs. In the seven classes where the outcome was decided on the mat, the meet hosts won two by pin and two by decision, while visiting CHA claimed two pins and one decision.

At the meet starting weight of 160 lbs. Charter senior Steve Miller went ahead of CHA freshman Ben Rubin, 5-0, during the first two periods. Starting in the top position in round three, Miller was able to secure a pin with one minute and 13 seconds remaining. CHA got on the board in a hard-fought but low-scoring 171 lb. bout between senior Dan Gallagher and Quakers junior Joey Woodruff.

Neither man could complete a takedown in the opening round, then Gallagher, staring the second frame on the bottom, was able to escape to gain a 1-0 edge. That would prove to be the only point scored in the match. Beginning on the bottom in the third period, Woodruff almost executed a stand-up escape with about half-a-minute elapsed, but Gallagher flung him back down to the mat and maintained control the rest of the way to win by decision.

The Devils then pulled ahead in the team score thanks to their extraordinary eighth-grader, Desmond Johnson. He quickly scored a takedown and three back points, and then pinned Charter senior Nick Briscella with 14 seconds left in the first period. Next, the home team forfeited to CHA junior Nick McCall at 215 lbs., leaving the Blue Devils with a 15-6 advantage in the team score.

Two Tylers tussled in the 285 lb. match. CHA’s Tyler Hightower appeared close to scoring a takedown in the opening period, but fellow junior Tyler Mercer of the Quakers kept his knees locked around the head of Hightower to keep the Devils’ dreadnought from gaining full control. Round two began with the tally still 0-0 and with the CHA man in the superior position, but Mercer quickly scored a reversal and then got the pin with 1:40 still on the clock.

The visitors went back up by nine points in the meet score when the hosts forfeited to sophomore Jordan Wang at 103 lbs., and a forfeit by both schools at 112 left the count at 21-12. There was no wrestling in the next four weight classes, as neither team showed up at 125 lbs., and Chestnut Hill forfeited at 119, 130, and 135. Penn Charter sophomore Jared Ominsky, senior Jared Wenger, and sophomore Stanton Young accepted the surrender at those three spots as the Quakers moved ahead in the team score, 30-21.

The 140 lb. contest started off with a takedown by PC senior Gene Pak, but Devils sophomore George Kunkel scored a reverse later in the first period and again in the second frame for a 4-2 advantage. From a neutral (standing) start in the third round, Pak completed a takedown with 1:18 remaining to tie the match. He had trouble turning Kunkel at first, but finally levered him over in the last ten seconds, picking up three back points for a 7-4 decision.

That raised the Quakers’ lead to a dozen points at 33-21, so Chestnut Hill would need pins in each of the final two matches in order to tie the meet. The chances of that occurring began to diminish as the Quakers’ senior 145, Matt Lesso, came out of the first period with a 7-1 lead. CHA’s Connor Small (also an upperclassman) almost earned a takedown off of a neutral start in the third, but Lesso lassoed one of his legs, preventing the completion of the maneuver.

Lesso eventually shook free and then recorded a takedown himself for a 9-1 advantage. There was another standing start in the third period, and although Small snagged a takedown almost immediately, he was unable to score again, and Lesso prevailed, 9-3, to give PC an insurmountable 36-21 lead with just the 152 lb. contest left on the agenda.

Here, Quakers junior Josh Ford escaped after CHA senior Matt Rubin rang up the initial takedown, but Rubin brought his rival down again and then pinned him with 46 ticks left in the opening round.