The annual wrestling match between Caesar Rodney and Smyrna draws a capacity crowd no matter what. But there was a possibility of one match that could make it even more special this year.
Smyrna’s Brent Fleetwood won a 1-0 decision over Caesar Rodney’s Micah Hight in a rare clash of three-time state champions, the highlight of several razor-thin matches Friday night as the top-ranked Eagles scored a 32-22 home victory over the third-ranked Riders.
“That’s why so many people came,” Smyrna coach Kurt Howell said, “for the potential of a blockbuster matchup like that. And what a great match it was.”
The only scoring in the 120-pound showdown came at the start of the second period, when Hight conceded a point to start the period in a neutral position.
“Micah, as explosive as he is on his feet, he’s not as good on the mat as Fleetwood,” CR coach Dickie Howell said. “So we chose to wrestle him on our feet, concede the point and try to get a takedown.”
Fleetwood and Kurt Howell weren’t surprised by the strategy.
“Micah is really good on his feet, and I thought they would try to make it happen on his feet,” Kurt Howell said. “I guess if you concede that point, you’ve got to make sure you get your point in the second period. It didn’t go their way.”
Fleetwood started the third period on top and rode Hight out of bounds six times to keep him off the board. Hight suffered what appeared to be an ankle injury with 1:19 left. He was limping noticeably but kept going and gave his all to the final buzzer.
“My strategy was just to keep riding, keep advancing, and if a turn came my way I obviously would take it,” Fleetwood said. “But I just tried to stay strong on top.”
It marked the third time the two had squared off this season, but the first time in Delaware. Hight won a 5-1 decision over Fleetwood in the 120-pound final at the Ray Oliver Invitational in Owings Mills, Md., on Dec. 7. Fleetwood turned the tables with a 3-1 decision in the fifth-place match at the Escape the Rock tournament on Jan. 19 in Southampton, Pa.
But it was far from the only close match of the night. The Eagles won nine of the 14 matches, but CR scored the only two pins. Those came from Troy McNally (220) and Zack Parker (285) as the Riders ran out to an early 12-0 lead.
Then Smyrna battled back. Chase Archangelo won a 3-0 decision at 106, and Nate Bryant scored a 14-6 major decision at 113. Fleetwood won his thriller, and Othniel Edmond took a 6-3 decision at 126 to push the Eagles ahead 13-12.
“I thought the first four [weights] would be toss-ups, and we lost all four,” Dickie Howell said. “That kind of made it tough.”
Smyrna got technical falls from Tyler Carney (132) and Kalen Wilson (138). CR’s Tony Scarfo answered with a major decision at 145 before the Eagles’ Eli Hutchinson grinded out a 12-9 decision at 152 to push Smyrna’s lead to 26-16.
But the Riders took nail-biters in the next two, with Seth Brosius winning 6-5 at 160 and Mike Clavier winning 4-3 in overtime at 170.
That left Smyrna leading 26-22 with two matches to go, and 182-pounder Mike Rocco stunned CR’s Connor Castellon with a 4-2 decision to clinch the team victory. Rocco won it with a lunging takedown 6.6 seconds into overtime.
“Rocco, hands down, was the hero tonight,” Kurt Howell said. “I’ve been talking to him for a week and half, telling him, ‘You’re the role player on this team.’ He was saying, ‘I can beat this kid.’
“I told him, ‘Your job is to stay off your back, don’t get pinned, and if you have an opportunity late, take it.’ He kept saying he could win this match. Before he walked out I looked up at the scoreboard and figured we needed heroics from somebody, and he did it. … I didn’t think the match would play out the way it did.”
Smyrna’s Marquelle Bennett wrapped it up with a 7-2 decision at 195.
“We knew coming in that the match was going to be won on the close matches,” Dickie Howell said. “They won more close ones than us.”
A rematch is certainly possible at the DIAA Dual Meet State Tournament on Feb. 11 at Smyrna. Rest assured that would be another packed house.