PUNXSUTAWNEY — When the starting lineups were announced Wednesday night at PAHS, it appeared as if the Punxsy Chucks wrestling team would be at a severe disadvantage with three scheduled forfeits and two regulars out of the lineup. But Punxsy shuffled the lineup around and managed to pull off a surprising 39-30 victory over St. Marys in Punxsutawney.
"I'm really proud of the way these guys wrestled tonight," Punxsy head coach Eric Eddy said after the match. "We didn't give up a bunch of pins where we couldn't afford to, and it was just a great team effort."
After a back-and-forth contest the entire night, the whole ordeal came down to the final match of the night at 106 pounds, where Punxsy's Andrew Bullers faced off against St. Marys' Ray Dent.
Punxsy led the contest 33-30 entering the bout but knew that anything aside from a decision could cost them the match.
The first period of the match saw a lot of running around, and Eddy even said he felt Dent controlled the entire period, but Bullers was able to avoid a takedown and a stalling penalty, and the match was still scoreless after one.
In the second period, Dent managed a takedown, but Bullers quickly earned a reversal and forced Dent's shoulders to the mat, securing the six-point pin and Punxsy's team victory.
"This was probably the one match all year where Andrew really had a weight advantage," Eddy said. "One thing we can count on is Andrew's cut roll. He has an excellent one; he hit it tonight, and he secured the win for us with it."
Despite the match coming down to the final bout, Eddy noted that the momentum turned in Punxsy's favor in the very first match of the evening, where Punxsy's Joel Bowers faced off against one of St. Marys' powerhouse wrestlers, Evan Smith.
Bowers fell down 4-1 in the first period with Smith earning a pair of takedowns and Bowers managing just one escape point. But Bowers never quit, and after Smith extended his lead to 5-1 with a quick second-period escape, Bowers earned the next five points on a takedown, an escape and another takedown with just 1:07 left on the clock. Bowers held on for the 6-5 victory and gave Punxsy a quick 3-0 lead.
"Smith is a tough senior, and that match wasn't one we could count on," Eddy said. "But when Joel went out and battled back for the win, I believe that changed the entire complexion of the match."
With Devan Snyder out of the lineup Wednesday, Punxsy's Stephanie Smith answered the call at 120 pounds, and despite a 6-2 loss, she battled hard and avoided giving up more than three points, which is exactly what her coach asked of her.
"Stephanie was losing, 6-0, going into the third period, and I asked her to give me two more tough minutes," he said. "And not only did she do that, she scored a late reversal, and that is a huge difference in these matches."
St. Marys took its first lead of the night at 126 pounds, where Dylan Smith picked up a 6-1 victory over Punxsy's Ty Berringer. But again, Eddy was pleased with his wrestler's performance to avoid a pin or major decision.
"Ty is a tough, tough kid," Eddy said. "But he hasn't been back in wrestling very long. He wrestled as a kid, but this is just his second year back into it. He fought tough off his back tonight and prevented the pin to keep us in it."
Punxsy regained the lead for good at 132 pounds when Josh Schuckers managed to pin St. Marys' Brandon Mackey in the third period of their match.
Schuckers earned two quick points for a takedown and led 6-1 at the end of the first period. After picking up six more back points in the second period, he was in control at 12-1 entering the third, and it took him just 30 seconds in the final period to finish Mackey.
"Schuckers battled and battled and battled," Eddy said. "He did exactly what we've been working on in the room, what (assistant coach) Buddy Young's been hammering home on top and what I've been telling him to do on his feet."
Punxsy extended its lead at 138 pounds, with Neko Cappella picking up a 2-0 decision over Sam Miller.
"Sam Miller is a big 138-pounder, and a tough one," Eddy said. "We knew when we made the move, it was no gimme. Neko earned a takedown in the first, but it's tough to wrestle with a 2-0 lead. In the third period, he battled for two minutes, and he was constantly trying to clear the legs. He prevented anything even close to a turn against a very good wrestler."
At 145 pounds, Punxsy's Caesar Maruca earned another close, three-point victory with a 2-1 decision over Tyler Yetzer. Maruca's two points came on a second period reversal after starting down, and while Yetzer managed a third-period escape, Maruca held of a flurry of late attacks to give Punxsy a 15-6 team lead.
St. Marys pulled back within three at 152 pounds when Alex Feldbauer picked up a pin over Punxsy's Tanner James, but again, Eddy said after the match how pleased he was with James' performance wrestling up a weight class.
"Tanner wrestled really well against Feldbauer, one of their better wrestlers," Eddy said. "Tanner's on his way down to battle for the position at 145. He's moving down and, at the same time, wrestling up, but he did a great job on top until he got pulled over."
Eddy also noted that James' loss may have come after a questionable move on Feldbauer's part.
"I thought the bar Tanner got pinned with was a little high," he said. "The kid's palms were a little high, and while I don't think it was anything intentional, that's hard to defend."
With St. Marys within three points of the Chucks, Punxsy senior Seth Spack entered the circle and made quick work of Bill Gaber to give Punxsy some breathing room again.
"Seth came out and gave us a good, quick first-period pin and put us right back in the match," Eddy said.
Carl Langley followed Spack's pin with one of his own at 170 pounds, forcing Josh Cameroni's shoulders to the mat late in the final period.
Langley had earned a first-period takedown and a second-period reversal to lead 4-0 at that point, which Eddy said was an impressive feat against Langley.
"I thought Cameroni wrestled a great match against Carl," Eddy said. "Carl's tough on top, and he was only up four at the time he turned him. But it was a good win for Carl."
Langley's pin put Punxsy up 21-12, and another Punxsy senior, Josh Neal, made his way to the mat for the 182-pound bout.
But he didn't stay there very long.
It took Neal only 18 seconds to pin his opponent, Kenneth Stage, and Punxsy seemed to be comfortably ahead with a 33-12 lead.
"Josh came in and got the quick fall for us," Eddy said. "When Stage thought of throwing him, he hesitated a bit, and it was lost."
Unfortunately, Punxsy knew it had a pair of forfeits coming, one at 195 pounds, and one at either 220 or 285.
Punxsy's Tyler Titus had to choose a class to wrestle in, and he chose 220 pounds, where he faced off against Gary Fledderman.
The forfeit at 195 pounds cut Punxsy's lead to 15, and a Fledderman pin in the second period narrowed the margin to nine.
"Tyler had a choice of going out at 220 or heavyweight, and I would always wrestle the heavyweight based on speed and agility, but Tyler chose their 220-pounder," Eddy said. "There was a good scramble where he could have secured a reversal and some back points, but he didn't get hip pressure. He hit a sit, and sat in instead of sitting away from his opponent. You just can't do that."
The 285-pound forfeit made the match uncomfortably close at 33-30, but Bullers' reversal and pin sealed the deal for the Chucks.
Coming off the big win, Punxsy will host Bradford and DuBois next week, with the Owls visiting Tuesday, and the Beavers coming to town Thursday.