Kicking off action in the Northwestern 3A/4A, rivals Fred T. Foard and St. Stephens squared off on the wrestling mat Tuesday.
They didn’t disappoint.
After 13-of-14 matches wrestled, a mere point separated the teams — 36-35.
Foard’s Michael Vincent and St. Stephens’ Chris Hunt tangled at 126 pounds with the winner helping his team claim the match.
Knowing what was at stake, Vincent pinned Hunt, lifting the Tigers to their 21st victory of the season.
“They are a tough bunch. Billy (Baker) is going to have them fired up,” said Foard coach Mike Carey. “That’s our rival. I don’t care what their record is or what our record is. It’s going to be a fist-fight, and it was.”
The Tigers (21-1), who defeated the Indians in a close 36-33 match last season, fell behind early to St. Stephens (21-7). Indians Hunter Schronce at 132 pounds and Ian Martin at 138 pounds earned victories to lead the charge.
Foard roared back with four-straight victories of their own — decisions by Ben Hughes (138) and Trevor Cook (152), a forfeit at 145 pounds by Jeremy Fredell and a pinfall by Hayden Albert at 160 — allowing the Tigers to take a 18-11 lead.
St. Stephens answered back in a big way, regaining momentum in the match.
Following a pin by the Indians’ Warren Boyett at 184 pounds, Foard’s Zack Edwards led most of his 195-pound match against Saint’s Dale Huffman.
As time dwindled down in the third period, Edwards led 8-6 on points, but Huffman managed to tie the match and eventually trap Edwards undernearth himself for the pin.
“(Winning) 132 and 195 were huge,” said Indians coach Billy Baker. “Those were matches where we could have given up three points or we could have gotten three, but we ended up getting six. That’s huge in a dual meet, as far as being able to keep in striking distance.”
Another momentum shift for Foard came in the form heavyweight Tanner Fleming, who returned from a shoulder ailment.
Within 10 seconds of his match, he knocked opponent Dillon Lominac down on the mat for the pin.
“It was a grizzly bear attack,” Carey said of his heavyweight’s performance. “That’s what it kind of reminded me of. That was big for us and a momentum shifter, too.”
Fleming said his return from injury was motivated by his coach.
“I don’t think I would have come back if it wasn’t for coach Carey,” Fleming said. “He’s always pushing me and pushing the team. That’s why we’re so good. We may not have the talent on this team that other school’s have, but we have the motivation of coach Carey and the hard work.”
Trading the lead one more time with two-straight Indian wins by Blake Rogers and Bradley Bader, the Tigers faced the daunting task of winning two matches at 120- and 126-pounds to win the match.
Caleb Griffin carried out his end of the bargain, pinning Justin Kidd to give Foard a 36-35 lead, setting up the final dramatic match between Hunt and Vincent.
Carey said he was very confident in his wrestler’s ability.
“Mike is a tough nut,” Carey said. “He’s been in our line-up three years now. He’s a junior. He’s been there and done that. That was a big match for him. He’s is as tough as they come. He’s giving up six pounds most nights, but he’s a tough nut to crack.”
Hunt refused to break, working on Vincent in the early moments of the match.
Just a minute or so into the match, Vincent worked Hunt to the ground, turned his shoulders to the mat and earned the pin, sealing the victory.
Despite the loss, Baker was pleased with his team’s efforts.
“Overall, that’s probably as well as we’ve wrestled all year long,” he said. “We’ve struggled. You can tell by our record. We’re having a tough year. I felt like tonight we finally put it together.”