You couldn’t ask for more drama out of an Army-Navy wrestling match. You couldn’t measure the disappointment among the partisan crowd at Alumni Hall when the Midshipmen lost in the most agonizing manner imaginable.
It came down to the final bout of the night and it was a baby-faced freshman with a losing record who came through big-time for Army by beating a seasoned senior.
Bobby Heald scored an escape with 20 seconds remaining in the third overtime to decision Austin Faunce, 2-1, in the heavyweight match as Army completed an improbable comeback and beat Navy, 18-15.
Sophomore sensation Jared Prince had sent the home crowd into a wild frenzy by posting a pin at 149 pounds to give Navy a 12-3 lead early. It all fell apart for the Midshipmen from there as the Black Knights won five of the final six bouts.
“I’m just really proud of our team. Going down in a big hole early was tough, but our guys continued to believe in themselves and battled back,” Army head coach Kevin Ward said. “I’m really happy for our guys to experience that type of comeback on the road.”
Heald got an escape in the second period and Faunce did the same in the third stanza to tie the score. Ward thought Heald had recorded a takedown with 53 seconds left and asked for a video review, but the referee upheld the ruling and the match went into overtime.
It appeared Faunce may have gotten a reversal in the second overtime, but no points were awarded. Heald then used his legs to get moving on the mat and managed to break the hold of Faunce and the tie.
“For a freshman heavyweight to come through in the clutch like that is just incredible,” Ward said. “Bobby knew an escape would win the match at that point and he fought like heck for it.”
Heald raced off the mat and leaped into the waiting arms of teammates, who hoisted him high in the air. Heald, out of Bedford, New Hampshire, entered with a 10-14 record that included two losses to Faunce.
“I went back and told Bobby that he was wrestling, that he was the guy at heavyweight tonight and I believed in him,” Ward said. “Bobby believed in himself and wrestled his heart out. We had confidence that he could go out and get it done and he did.”
It was Senior Night at Alumni Hall and it was stunning to see so many of Navy’s firsties falter. Nationally-ranked wrestlers Drew Daniels and Jadaen Bernstein got upset back-to-back at 165 and 174 as the Midshipmen seniors went 1-5 on the night.
“It’s certainly hard to comprehend that this year’s senior class got beat in that way,” Navy head coach Joel Sharratt said. “They are a talented group that has wrestled hard all season. They’ve had plenty of rest and recovery. Maybe it was the excitement of the night. Maybe we need to get them into more duals in a bigger environment a few more times.”
Navy has dominated Army on the mat, holding a commanding 49-7-5 lead in the all-time series coming into Friday night. However, the Black Knights have now won two straight meetings and three of the last four.
“The team did not come out with enough of a hustle mentality. It wasn’t so much what they did to us as it was what we didn’t do. We just didn’t win in the hustle category,” Sharratt said.
Trey Chalifoux put Army on the board first by battling back to beat Aslan Kilic at 125 pounds. Chalifoux trailed 3-1 going into the third period, but notched an escape and two takedowns to record a 6-5 decision.
Navy freshman Cody Trybus tied the match by notching a 6-2 decision of Lane Peters at 133 pounds. Trybus, who controlled Peters throughout, recorded two takedowns and a reversal.
Junior Nicholas Gill, ranked 20th by InterMat, gave Navy the lead by beating Austin Harry, 7-3, at 141. Gill broke a 3-3 tie with an escape to start the third period then added a takedown in the final seconds and picked up the riding point in improving his record to 27-6.
Prince served up some fireworks at 149 pounds by pinning Army freshman Will Lucie in the second period. Prince got Lucie into a headlock on the outside of the circle then quickly finished the job at the 4:33 mark.
Sharratt pumped his fist then high-fived assistant Nate Engel as the members of the Brigade of Midshipmen seated on the floor next to the mat erupted in celebration as home team took a seemingly comfortable a 12-3 lead.
However, Army mounted an impressive comeback at that point. Sophomore Lucas Weiland cut the deficit in half by decisioning Zach Davis, 7-1, in the 157-pound bout. Army senior Andrew Mendel then made it 12-9 with an upset of No. 20 Daniels at 165.
Daniels (22-4) scored an escape midway through the third period to get within 4-3, but could not get the takedown he needed to take the lead. Daniels got desperate down the stretch and wound up getting taken down himself, suffering just his fourth loss this season.
“Drew Daniels has struggled with that guy,” Sharratt said. “When Drew allows himself to really wrestle and compete he’s a great athlete, but sometimes he gets hesitant. I thought he was too hesitant tonight.”
Sophomore Ben Harvey then brought the Black Knights back to even, 12-12, with a stunning upset of Bernstein in the marquee match of the night.
Bernstein had opened the third period with an escape to take a 6-5 lead, but gave up a takedown with 33 seconds left. Harvey then rode out Bernstein the rest of the way to complete a 7-6 decision as the Army bench exploded with delight.
It was Harvey’s first victory in six meetings with Bernstein, who saw his record drop to 19-4. Bernstein, who was ranked eighth by InterMat, had beaten Harvey 14-8 in the finals of the All-Academy Championship on Jan. 27.
“I was very surprised about Bernstein. (Harvey) came out to wrestle a close match, to make it a one-takedown type of match, and Bernstein was a little too comfortable with thinking opportunities were going to keep coming to him,” Sharratt said. “Jadaen went out and got in on a leg in the first 10 seconds and didn’t finish. You have to finish those opportunities like it’s you one and only time to put points on the board.”
Senior Michael Coleman stopped the Army winning streak at three matches by beating Noah Stewart, 3-0, at 184. Coleman registered a takedown in the first period and an escape in the second, which held up because Stewart made no attempt to take shots.
Army retied the score at 15-15 after junior Rocco Caywood edged senior Steban Cervantes, 2-1, at 197. Cervantes scored an escape with 47 seconds left in the third period then narrowly missed getting a takedown late and Caywood won by virtue of riding time.
“We have to bounce back. We have the EIWA Tournament coming up in two weeks so we have to get back to work,” Sharratt said. “We can’t get this one back so the best thing we can do is learn from the mistakes we did make in this match, really take to heart what this match meant and do everything we can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
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