Thirteen seconds away from a potential loss to the reigning 160-pound champion, Howell junior Joey Schultz snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in the NJSIAA District 21 Tournament.
Schultz arm-dragged St. John Vianney’s Anthony Ferraro to a takedown and rode out his foe for a dramatic 3-2 decision Saturday night, boosting Howell to its second consecutive team district championship.
Ferraro, a senior, was bidding for this third title at the meet until the sudden turn of events.
Schultz lost to Ferraro in overtime at the Mustang Classic in December and admitted his confidence waned in the rematch after Ferraro took a 2-1 lead on a penalty point with 45 seconds remaining.
“I was panicking a little there. There was still some time left but I needed to make something happen,” Schultz said. “I had nothing to lose. I saw his elbow and I dragged his arm right through. I knew I had him from there.”
Because Ferraro is legally blind, his matches take place with what’s called a “touch start,” during which the wrestlers have to be in contact with each other and remain in contact throughout the match.
Schultz said he was able to adapt to the unique rules.
“He’s very strong,” Schultz said of Ferraro. “He’s a very tough wrestler.”
Howell also picked up championship performances from Ben Esposito at 132 pounds, Kyle Cocozza at 220, and Ashanti Maurice at 145. Maurice felled a champ from two years ago, Spencer Young of Jackson Memorial, getting an 8-6 decision.
Esposito was last year’s champ at 120 and Maurice won at 145 when they helped the Rebels break the hold on the team title of longtime tournament kingpin Jackson Memorial, which has won 25 district titles since 1972.
This year Jackson Memorial slipped to third with 151 points behind Howell’s 161 and Manalapan’s 153.
Howell has taken three team crowns since 2009. John Gagliano was named top District 21 coach and Colts Neck’s Peter Ottaviano was named outstanding wrestler for the meet with his sweep to the 120 title. Ottaviano’s brother, Nick, won at 113.
While Ferraro was denied his third district crown, Jackson Memorial’s Ken Bradley was among a host of those who became two-time champs.
Bradley, a junior, yielded a bout-opening takedown to Marlboro’s Daniel Hwang, but roared back to notch a 12-4 major decision.
Bradley missed his freshman season after suffering a football injury.
“Last year’s title was probably a little more satisfying coming an injury but I felt like my offense has really opened back up and I turned a corner this year, going back to my style of wrestling of being very aggressive on my feet, being hard on top, and always getting out on bottom,” he said.
Bradley said he was concerned when Hwang scored first.
“They always say 95 percent of the guys who get the first takedown win the match. I wasn’t going to let up with my title on the line,” Bradley said.
Others who defended titles were Jackson Liberty teammates Nick Zak (182 pounds) and Michael Russo (106), both of whom kept perfect records for the season intact.
Jackson Memorial’s Alex Huxford kept his comeback season progressing by the winning the title at 126. Huxford was the 103-pound champion in 2011, but illness sidelined him his junior season and he separated his shoulder in December, delaying his return. Huxford only had eight bouts prior to the weekend.
Only three finalists wrestled past their seeds, with Jackson Liberty’s Michael McKenzie coming from the No. 5 seed at 220 pounds until running into Cocozza. McKenzie scored a semifinal 7-4 decision over top-seeded Frank Lefkowitz.
Hwang, who lost to Bradley in the final, and Khalil Haskins of Matawan rose from third seeds to make it to the last round. Haskins fell to Huxford.
Others who won weight classes were Tim Liquori of Jackson Liberty (152), Connor Bohringer (170) and Brian Hamann (138) of Jackson Memorial, and John Appice of Manalapan (285).