CURWENSVILLE — In high school wrestling, what weight class wrestles first is determined by a random drawing. Thursday night in Curwensville, luck of the draw set the stage for the most anticipated match of the evening between Punxsy's Neko Cappella — who recently became just the third Punxsy wrestler to reach 100 wins — and Curwensville's Jake Keller — who is a two-time district champion — in the 138-pound class to be the final match of the evening.
Luck had nothing to do with the final outcome, though, as the match was determined on the mats, and the Chucks' skills led them to a point where the outcome of the team scores didn't rely on the finale after Josh Schuckers pinned Curwensville's Devan Kerin at 132 pounds to give Punxsy a 38-28 lead with one bout remaining and seal the victory.
Cappella battled Snyder to the end, but came up just short in a 3-0 loss by decision that set the final score at 38-31.
"We're really proud of what these guys did here tonight," Punxsy head coach Eric Eddy said after the match. "The score is not really indicative of what happened out there. We're giving up a forfeit somewhere in our lineup, at either 220 pounds or 285 pounds. So, they're getting six free points there."
Eddy was pleased with the way some of his wrestlers — including Cappella and Schuckers — stepped up and accepted the challenge of bumping to a higher weight class to fill spots on the roster.
"Tonight, guys were bumped up from the start," he said. "Everyone wrestled up a weight class except 106 (Andrew Bullers), 113 (Joel Bowers), 120 (Matt Burke) and 126 (Devan Snyder)."
A big difference in the match was Punxsy's early start, as the Chucks jumped out to a 16-0 lead after the first three weight classes were decided.
Perry Arrington started things off for the Chucks in the 145-pound class against Alex Holt.
Arrington earned a convincing major decision by a 13-3 margin, with Holt's only three points coming on a first-period reversal and a point for a third-period neutral start.
Arrington led 5-2 after the first period after a pair of takedowns and an escape. He led 8-2 after two periods, and finished the match with a takedown and three back points to set the final margin.
Punxsy's next victory came from Caesar Maruca at 152 pounds over Dakota Royer. Maruca led 2-0 after the first period via a takedown and wasted no time in the second period after starting down, reversing Royer, earning two back points and pinning him with 36 seconds left in the period.
"Back when Caesar was wrestling for us in elementary school at seven, eight, nine years old, this is the Caesar we expected to see," Eddy said. "Tonight, he really wrestled a big match for us."
Next up was another highly-anticipated match for Punxsy, when senior Seth Spack took to the mat against Austin Pollick at 160 pounds.
Entering Thursday night, Spack was just two wins from the acclaimed 100-win plateau, and after Thursday's match, the magic number is down to one.
Spack led 7-0 after the first period as he earned a takedown, two back points and three more back points.
Much like Maruca, Spack wasted no time in the second period, either. After starting down, Spack quickly reversed Pollick to bump his lead to 9-0 before pinning his opponent to extend Punxsy's lead to 16-0.
Punxsy's first loss came at 170 pounds where less-experienced Ryan Marshall took to the mat against Curwensville's Nate Wriglesworth and lost by pin fall.
Despite the loss, though, Eddy liked what he saw out of Marshall.
"Ryan Marshall went out there tonight, and he gave up the fall, but that's maybe his third match he's ever wrestled," he said. "You can't fault a guy at all for having the courage to go out there and do that."
Punxsy earned four more points on another major decision by Carl Langley at 182 pounds.
Langley dominated Chad Desmett, but Desmett was able to fight off several pin attempts, including one late in the match where he was saved by the final horn.
"Carl Langley is a 160-pounder, and we weighed him in tonight at 161 so we could register him as a 170-pounder and bump him to 182," Eddy said. "I even thought Carl had the fall during his match, but he ended up getting a major decision, so there was a two-point difference."
Langley's four team points gave the Chucks a 20-6 lead, and teammate Josh Neal followed with a quick pin over Jake Kavelak at 195 pounds to bump the lead to 26-6.
Curwensville cut into the gap, though, with three consecutive wins to cut Punxsy's lead to four points.
First, Ricky Magnuson was awarded six points for a forfeit at 220 pounds.
At 285 pounds, Spencer Smeal earned six more points with a fall over Punxsy's Tyler Titus.
Finally, Curwensville's Sam Bressler earned a major decision over Punxsy's Andrew Bullers, 13-2, with Bullers earning his two points at the end with a reversal to avoid a technical fall.
Punxsy returned to its winning ways at 113 pounds when Bowers defeated Travis Lansberry by pin 1:28 into the match, giving Punxsy a 32-22 cushion.
Punxsy's next two matches were losses, but both were losses by decision, keeping Curwensville at bay.
Burke took on Tyler Mays at 120 pounds, and despite a late reversal, he was unable to overcome a 9-3 deficit.
At 126 pounds, Devan Snyder fought back after trailing Brandon Sass 5-0 at the end of two periods to earn a reversal with 1:17 left in the match and two back points to cut the gap to 5-4. Snyder was unable to earn another back point, though, and Sass earned his team three points to narrow the margin to 32-28.
"Burke's and Snyder's matches really stand out in my mind," Eddy said. "Despite being losses, they were both decision losses, and they both made small mistakes that cost them some points. Those are things we can fix. But what I like is those guys battled right to the end. Both of those matches ended with us in control, and that's a big thing. Win or lose, if you can end the match in control, that's a huge confidence booster."
With the lead narrowed to four points, Punxsy knew the importance of Shuckers' match at 132 pounds. If he earned any type of victory, Punxsy would clinch the team win before Cappella even had to take the mat against Keller.
Schuckers jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead in the first period, but Curwensville's Devin Kerin was shifty and almost reversed him a few times.
Schuckers saw an opening early in the second period, though, and took advantage, pinning his opponent and clinching the win.
"Schuckers got the big win for us at 132," Eddy said. "He's another one who had to gain weight just so he could weigh in there. He really did a good job with a really funky wrestler. Guys like that, you have to worry about moves like cement mixers and elevators, but Josh did a good job countering all of that."
With the win secured, Cappella's match still held weight, as he had never faced Keller before. Overall, Eddy was pleased with Cappella's performance against one of the best wrestlers in the area.
"Neko bumped up a weight class to wrestle him, and he's really one of the premier wrestlers in the area and in the state," Eddy said. "He's one of the best riders around, and Neko just couldn't escape, but he didn't get turned either. When you can stay under a guy like that for a full period and not get turned, that's something."
What Eddy liked most took place before the match, though, when Cappella asked to face the difficult opponent, even though it meant bumping up a weight class.
"Down in the locker room before the match, that was a match Neko asked for," Eddy said. "He was getting it anyway, but he asked if he could have it. That's big. You can't be one of the best if you're going to dodge one of the best."
After the hard-earned victory, Punxsy meets Brookville Tuesday on the road with the junior high match starting at 6 p.m. and the varsity match to follow.