The Chesapeake-Northeast wrestling match on January 29 had everything: natural rivals, an electric atmosphere in Chesapeake’s packed gym on the Cougars’ senior night, great competition in all weight classes and an outcome that went right down to the final seconds of the final bout.
When it was all over, the Cougars emerged by the slimmest of margins, winning 34-32 in an all-time classic.
“What an exciting match,” said Chesapeake head coach Randy Curtin. “This is my sixth year in the program, and I’ve never seen a crowd this size, and the energy is just contagious. It’s amazing. It’s awesome to be a part of.”
The lively crowd — which athletic director Chip Snyder said was the biggest he’s ever seen for a wrestling dual in 28 years — generated an exciting environment for the showdown. With dimmed lights in the gym and a spotlight on the mat creating a dramatic stage, a memorable back-and-forth battle unfolded.
Chesapeake’s Zak Hardin and Northeast’s Devin Wagner began the dual in the 220-lbs weight class. Hardin almost put Wagner on his back in the opening round, but Wagner reversed to tie the bout. The pair grinded until Hardin led 8-3 late in the third round, and Wagner scored key points to avoid a major decision; Hardin took an 8-5 decision to put Chesapeake up 3-0.
Heavyweights Ron McDuffie for Chesapeake and Damien DeVoter for Northeast battled next, and the duo were locked in a stalemate for almost six minutes, with neither wrestler getting an opening for a shot. Still tied 0-0 with eight seconds left, DeVoter came from down position to escape McDuffie and beat the buzzer for a 1-0 decision, tying the match at 3-3.
The Eagles and their fans roared in celebration. The tone was set: neither side was going to give anything away easy.
“I was just trying to get my base,” said DeVoter. “The time was right, and I got up and got the escape. It felt great to get points for my team.”
At 106, Chesapeake’s Dylan Ritter built an early 6-3 lead in his high-scoring match with Northeast’s Victor Umali. Umali broke free from two potential pins in the second round, and Ritter took him the distance to earn a 16-7 major decision. Ritter improved to 32-5 on the year; Umali is 21-9.
With Chesapeake ahead 7-3, Northeast’s Colin Cook sought to get his team some points in his 113 bout with Chesapeake’s Adam Taifouri. Cook wrangled Taifouri into a hold at the end of the first round and beat the first-round buzzer with a pin with one second remaining, and Northeast regained a 9-7 lead. Cook moved to 25-5 on the year.
Michael Carnes kept Northeast’s momentum going at 120 in his match with Chesapeake’s Justin Shifflett. Carnes built a 6-0 lead by the third round, then got a crucial takedown in the closing seconds of the bout to take an extra point with an 8-0 major decision. The Eagles led 13-7 as Carnes improved to 22-10.
At 126, Northeast’s Caleb Jacobs resisted Chesapeake’s Chase Listorti into the second round, but Listorti (32-5) got a pin to tie the match at 13-13.
Chesapeake’s Aiden Yost improved to 30-7 on the season with a pin of Northeast’s Scott Czyz at 132, giving Chesapeake a 19-13 lead.
Northeast’s Billy Katzenberger led 6-0 in the second round of his 138-lbs match with Owen Schmidt when he managed to pin Schmidt and bring the Eagles back level at 19-19.
That kicked off a stretch of Eagle momentum, as teammate Jayden Mason followed suit with a first-round pin of Dean Laumann at 145, pushing Northeast back in front, 25-19.
Caleb Zaruba continued the trend for Northeast at 152. He took a 4-2 lead over Chesapeake’s Jacob Rosenbloom after one round, led 6-2 after two rounds and ended up winning, 9-2. Rosenbloom’s endurance to not surrender a pin or a major decision was key for Chesapeake, though Northeast held the momentum with a 28-19 lead.
Katzenberger (24-3), Mason (24-8) and Zaruba (19-8) have been a strong trio in the middleweights all season for Northeast, and the Eagles were fired up with a double-digit advantage at that point in the dual.
“I almost expect it every time, 38, 45, 52, it’s like that back-to-back-to-back thing,” said Katzenberger, who could potentially rematch with Schmidt at the county championships; Schmidt is a top contender for the county at 31-6 overall. “Every time I come off the mat I expect two more wins right after. It’s always great,” Katzenberger said. “The crowd was into it. It was awesome. It was a good match. Everybody wrestled good. A couple people got caught on a couple little things. But we fought. It was a great match, came right down to the last one. I was happy with our team, definitely.”
Chesapeake had ground to make up, and Victor Listorti gave the Cougars a spark at 160. He shot early and wrapped up Northeast’s Timar Hatcher for a first-round pin, pulling Chesapeake within three points at 25-28. It was the 101st career win for Listorti, who is 35-2 on the year.
Chesapeake’s DJ Hoover eyed a pin against Northeast’s Brayden Young at 170 but instead managed a 16-1 technical fall to regain the lead for the Cougars, 30-28.
“Coach said, ‘You gotta pull something out here. We need bonus points,’” said Hoover, who improved to 33-4. “So I went out there and did what I had to do. I was gassed pretty much the whole time, and I just grinded through it.”
The outcome hung in the balance during the final two bouts, which were evenly matched. At 182, Chesapeake’s Dion Ambrose had a tough challenge in Northeast first-year wrestler Myles Macon. Ambrose was able to outmaneuver Macon’s speed and strength and use his technique for point-scoring moves in the first and second round. Ambrose brought the crowd to its feet with a pair of forceful takedowns in the third round to claim an 11-1 major decision and push Chesapeake’s lead to 34-28.
“I was just going out, I kept a positive mindset, I just had the mindset of winning the whole time,” said Ambrose. “It was scary at first because I was thinking he was going to out-strength me. I just kept it close, tried not to tie up with him, but I ended up tying up with him a lot. I tried taking shots as much as I could, but he was fast. We were pumped. We were ready. We knew it was going to be a close match.”
Northeast’s Jason Arnold could have brought Northeast level at 34-34, but he had to pin Chandler Booker at 195 in the night’s final bout. Arnold almost caught Booker for a pin in the second round, but Booker fought it off and escaped. Arnold took every shot he could in the third frame and built up a large lead, but Booker kept his endurance and fought to the end. Arnold (21-10) won a 15-5 decision, but Booker’s efforts to resist a pin sealed the match victory for Chesapeake, 34-32.
Northeast coach Chris Dyke has seen his Eagles alternate victories with the Cougars in the rivalry matchup over the last five years. He had charted out where Northeast would get its points prior to the matchup, but the Eagles fell just shy of projections.
Still, Dyke expressed pride for their output.
“It was a good match,” said Dyke. “Everybody wrestled tough.”
Curtin said the Cougars knew it would be close, and they were thrilled to come up big over the last several bouts to win.
“Northeast is a tough team, and we came in respecting them, but we didn’t want to get pinned as much as we did,” Curtin said. “At the same time, we weren’t getting the bonus points we were hoping to get. Going into the last two matches, we were sweating bullets. Dion still wrestled a tough match. We’re happy with what he did, and he almost did pin [Macon]. And then Chandler not getting pinned was just enough to squeak out the win.”
Hoover said the Cougars were excited for the showdown and had a team-first mentality that allowed them to secure the win in a tremendous rivalry atmosphere.
“Northeast is the biggest rival, Northeast-Chesapeake in anything, and as you can see it’s just wild,” Hoover said. “Just everyone working together, and nobody gave up. Everybody just wrestled their hardest.”