Drew Mullen did not need to be told he had the key match of the tournament.
The Northridge senior overcame the butterflies Saturday and delivered one of the crucial victories of the Licking County Invitational. Mullen beat Licking Valley’s Logan Johnson in the 138-pound final at Licking Heights, and it helped the Vikings dethone the Panthers for the team title.
“I was so nervous going into that match, and I tried to get that mindset that nothing is going to stop me,” Mullen said. “I needed to do it not only for myself but also for my team.”
Northridge scored 276 points, 26 ahead of three-time defending champion Valley. The Vikings were third two years ago and runner-up in 2011. They worked their way up to first thanks to four champions.
Mullen and Johnson battled to a draw early, but Mullen took a 4-1 lead after the second period. Johnson got within 4-3, but Mullen pulled away to a 12-3 victory. Jake Adkins (106), Thomas Williams (152) and Anthoney Verhovec (Hwt.), all returning state qualifiers, joined Mullen on the top step in front of a raucous Northridge crowd.
“It gets you thrilled and pumped up and makes you push harder and give everything you have,” Mullen said.
Williams said, “We had some matches that we would have liked to have won, but we also had some matches that were iffy going into it and we pulled them out. The team wrestled very well all the way through.”
Adkins dominated at 106, winning four times, including three by pin. He pinned Heath’s Isaiah Young in the second period of the finals. Bookending the classes, Verhovec had his third pin of the day in the final, beating Watkins Memorial’s Damian George.
In one of only two finals matches between a pair of state qualifiers, Williams wore down and outlasted Granville’s Dain Steffeny at 152. Williams got an early takedown, and as one of the area’s best defensive wrestlers, he never gave Steffeny a chance.
“I did what I do best — nothing fancy,” Williams said. “Especially if I get a takedown in that first period, I definitely feel confident. Getting that first takedown is the big thing with me.”
In the other match of state qualifiers, Lakewood’s John Gershom beat Newark Catholic’s Evan Hansel in a battle that resembled one reserved for March. Gershom eventually won on an escape in the ultimate tiebreaker to win the title at 145 without scoring an offensive point.
Gershom also had three pins to earn Most Outstanding Wrestler honors. He was one of six repeat champions. Williams was a three-time winner.
“It is tough to wrestle (Hansel) because he knows what I am going to do and I know what he is going to do,” Gershom said. “You don’t see a lot of action, but I do need to work on shooting more. It is kind of boring to watch sometimes.”
Nathan McCown was Valley’s lone winner at 182. He held off Lakewood’s Junior King in the finals, winning 8-5 after King tried a desperation move during the final seconds.
“It went pretty smooth, and I had a really good finals match against Junior,” McCown said. “He was an alternate for state last year, and I just qualified. I knew it was going to be really close.”
Tommy Wogan (170) and Bo Redman (220) joined Johnson as runner-up finishers for the Panthers. Another champion or two could have swung the pendulum.
Watkins’ Nick Lancia (160) won to help the Warriors to a third-place finish with 208.5, just ahead of Granville’s 201, which had titles from Nick Capaci (120) and Christian Price (126). Caleb Ohl (113) and Jacob Langwasser (170) won for fifth-place Newark Catholic, Ty Yeager (132) and A.J. Velasquez (220) won for sixth-place Heights and Clayton Bullard (195) won for Johnstown.