A momentary lapse of judgment made Old Bridge High School wrestler Xavier Jenkins’ path to Atlantic City more difficult than it had to be.
As the top seed in the district semifinals, Jenkins held a 14-2 lead over his opponent when he got reversed to his back and pinned with just two seconds left in the third period.
RELATED: Complete opening round results
Jenkins rebounded from the devastating loss to place third in the district and qualify for the Region V Tournament, which he opened with a 5-2 decision over Metuchen’s Kevin Coleman in a first-round bout on Wednesday night.
“I think he didn’t stick to his game plan during the district match and he wound up in a tough spot,” Old Bridge assistant coach Dave Kiley said. “It’s always tough getting pinned when you are the No. 1 (seed). I think he went back to work and focused on his game plan, and you see what he’s capable of when he executes it, and that’s what he did tonight.”
This is action of Region V wrestling at Hunterdon Central High School in Flemington.
Jenkins (30-6), who is seeded 11th in the region, and 19 other wrestlers from the Greater Middlesex Conference advanced to Friday’s quarterfinals, which will be contested at the Hunterdon Central Field House at 5:30 p.m.
Conference wrestlers went 20-30 in the opening round (including four head-to-head bouts) with the winners joining 27 others from the league who had byes into the quarterfinals.
RELATED: Quarterfinal pairings
One of the most intriguing intra-conference quarterfinal bouts pits Spotswood’s Ejike Okafor (34-3) against Piscataway’s Eti-Ini Udott (30-3) at 182 pounds. Okafor has lost twice to top-seeded Mike Gargano of Old Bridge, who also decisioned Udott twice this season.
“Obviously they are both athletic and won a lot of matches,” Piscataway head coach Bill Pavlak said of Okafor and Udott, who placed fourth in the region last year. “I know Eti-ini has worked hard and his conditioning is good. He’s definitely focused on winning the region. I feel confident that it’s going to be a good match.”
Jenkins will face third-seeded Brian Smolinsky (33-1) of North Hunterdon, whose only loss this season is to Bound Brook’s Sean Glasgow, a former conference tournament finalist who transferred from East Brunswick.
Great moment here at Region 5 as crowd sang National Anthem to compensate for technical difficulties! pic.twitter.com/PETrC2GPEs
— Greg Tufaro (@GregTufaro) February 25, 2015
“Xavier has the capability of beating kids that normally we would not think he could beat because he is slick on his feet,” Old Bridge head coach Bryan Garnett said. “The way coach Kiley has been working these kids on their feet, with our system, it makes us dangerous on our feet. We’re hard to take down and it also results in many takedowns by us. When we find that Xavier uses many of the things that Coach Kiley has been doing, he’s been very successful.”
Jenkins wrestled with near flawless technique in the district semifinals before hitting a tight waist one-on-one tilt that led to him getting reversed to his back at the 5:58 mark.
RELATED: Harry Frezza’s Region V story
“Toward the end I got a little sloppy,” Jenkins said. “After my match I sulked a little bit but got over it and I realized I had to wrestle back. I went into today with a more positive attitude. I know I could have easily beat that (district semifinalist) but I just slipped up. I guess God has a plan. Everything happens for a reason, so I’ve just got to keep moving on with my life. You can’t reverse time. You’ve just got to keep moving forward.”
Kiley said he believes Jenkins can wrestle his way to the NJSIAA Individual Championships in Atlantic City “if he stays the course and buys into the system that we are teaching.”
“He got pinned (in the district semifinal) doing things that we don’t teach,” Garnett said. “I think that lit a little fire under him, and right now I think he’s going to excel.
“We’ll take it one match at a time and see what he can do.”