After a monumental letdown on Friday night against Illinois, the Rutgers wrestling team stormed down Route 1 on Sunday and delivered Rider the kind of thumping a big brother would give his little brother.
To understand what happened Sunday, you first have to know what happened on Friday night, at home, in front of 4,307 fans.
We will begin with the ugly. On Friday night, Rutgers hosted Illinois in what should have been a close Big Ten showdown. I predicted a 5-5 match split, with Illinois coming out on top by a score of 16-15 because of bonus points. Instead, Rutgers lost eight out of ten bouts en route to a 29-6 beatdown.
Things didn’t go well for the Scarlet Knights from the start. At 125 pounds, Nicolas Aguilar dropped a tight 3-2 decision, his fourth loss in a row. Next at 133 pounds, the feature match of the night, No. 7 Travis Piotrowski wrestled No. 10 Sammy Alvarez. In the first period, defending a shot from Piotrowski, Alvarez scrambled away like he has done all season long. Fans who have been watching this season know that Alvarez is a tough customer to take down, using his length and scramble skills to fend off many tough shots. But this time, it got him in trouble.
Towards the edge of the mat, Alvarez was in a full split, still defending the take down attempt from Piotrowski. Just when it looked like both wrestlers were heading out of bounds, Piotrowski turned Alvarez back in and slapped on a nasty cradle. A few seconds later, Alvarez was pinned.
The first two matches would set the tone for how Rutgers was going to wrestle for the remainder of the evening. They had already dropped two toss-up matches, giving up big bonus points for the Alvarez fall.
At 141, Aragona was majored, losing 8-0. At 157, Mike VanBrill dropped a 2-1 decision. In the 165 and 174 pound weight classes, both Rutgers wrestlers lost their match by a point. Three straight matches where the difference was one point in favor of the Illini. It was just that kind of night.
In the next best match of the evening, No. 12 Billy Janzer lost in overtime to No. 15 Zac Braunagel. Alex Esposito was the final match of the evening at heavyweight, and surrendered a major decision to Illinois big man Luke Luffman, 11-3.
The Scarlet Knights only winners were Nick Santos at 149 and No. 19 Jordan Pagano at 197.
Illinois 29, Rutgers 6
125: #21 Justin Cardani (ILL) over #25 Nicolas Aguilar (RU) by decision, 3-2; ILL leads 3-0
133: #7 Travis Piotrowski (ILL) over #10 Sammy Alvarez (RU) by fall (2:43); ILL leads 9-0
141: #12 Dylan Duncan (ILL) over JoJo Aragona (RU) by major decision, 8-0; ILL leads 13-0
149: Nick Santos (RU) over Mousa Jodeh (ILL) by decision, 8-2; ILL leads 13-3
157: Eric Barone (ILL) over Michael VanBrill (RU) by decision, 2-1; ILL leads 16-3
165: #14 Danny Braunagel (ILL) over Brett Donner (RU) by decision, 4-3; ILL leads 19-3
174: #23 Joey Gunther (ILL) over Willie Scott (RU) by decision, 1-0; ILL leads 22-3
184: #15 Zac Braunagel (ILL) over #12 Billy Janzer (RU) by decision, 4-1 (TB2); ILL leads 25-3
197: #19 Jordan Pagano (RU) over Matt Wroblewski (ILL) by decision, 5-0; ILL leads 25-6
285: Luke Luffman (ILL) over Alex Esposito (RU) by major decision, 11-3; ILL wins 29-6
After Friday, the team had a day off to gather themselves and prepare for the next battle, an away match down Route 1 in Lawrenceville against in-state rival Rider.
1,600 fans packed Rider’s gym on Sunday night for a match filled with New Jersey talent. Rutgers would need to wrestle the opposite of how they wrestled against Illinois to pull off the win. Another match that was supposed to be very close, and one that Rider was licking their chops at the potential of beating an in-state Big Ten school.
Unlike the Illinois match, the tone was set early on in Lawrenceville. Starting at 125, No. 25 Aguilar battled in a back and forth match for a 11-7 win over Jonathan Tropea, a three time Region Champion in high school for Saint Joseph Montvale.
Next up at 133, No. 10 Alvarez put Friday night’s match behind him and earned a 8-0 major decision victory over Chris Wright by securing a take down at the buzzer for the bonus points. After two matches, Rutgers led 7-0.
Sammy scrambles at the buzzer to secure bonus points.#RelentlessPursuit | #GoRU pic.twitter.com/CIwc6C4Q0J— Rutgers Wrestling (@RUWrestling) February 10, 2020
141 pounds was arguably the most important match of the night. For Rider, redshirt senior No. 25 Pete Lipari would take the mat against his former team and wrestle true freshman JoJo Aragona, the prized recruit who took Lipari’s starting job at Rutgers.
At the start of the season, Lipari was still wrestling for the Scarlet Knights. He lost in a wrestle-off to Aragona for the 141 pound starting spot, and transferred to Rider where he had a place in the lineup. This match was everything to both wrestlers. For Lipari, a chance at revenge and to show Coach Goodale and Rutgers fans why he deserved another crack at the 141 pound job. For Aragona, a chance to knock off a top-25 guy and someone who he’s already beaten behind closed doors.
The match would not disappoint. Locked at 1-1 after regulation, the bout headed for overtime. In sudden victory one, no take downs were scored. In tie-breakers one and two, no points were scored after each wrestler chose down. In sudden victory two, both wrestlers were back on their feet where no take downs were scored yet again.
In tie-breaker three, Lipari chose down to start the thirty second period, and earned an escape. He took a 2-1 lead to tie-breaker four, where Aragona would be down for thirty seconds, needing an escape to tie the match. Nearing the end of the thirty seconds, with Lipari still in control on top, Aragona got into a better position and hit a switch for the two-point reversal and win at the buzzer. Pandemonium ensued from the Rutgers bench.
JoJo at the buzzer for the win!#RelentlessPursuit | #GoRU pic.twitter.com/cML7ZzjOif— Rutgers Wrestling (@RUWrestling) February 10, 2020
To keep the momentum going, Gerard Angelo followed up Aragona’s match with an overtime win of his own. After four bouts, Rutgers led 13-0.
Angelo gets his hand raised in sudden victory!#RelentlessPursuit | #GoRU pic.twitter.com/mrjI8FDlqU— Rutgers Wrestling (@RUWrestling) February 10, 2020
Rutgers would go on to win four more matches, including No. 19 Jordan Pagano’s 4-2 overtime win over No. 7 Ethan Laird.
Jordy at the buzzer for the Top-10 overtime victory!#RelentlessPursuit | #GoRU pic.twitter.com/5PDeASJ4RE— Rutgers Wrestling (@RUWrestling) February 10, 2020
After Alex Espostio finished the night off at heavyweight with a 7-4 win over Ryan Cloud, Rutgers would go home 25-6 winners. On a night where the Rutgers basketball team finished off an epic overtime comeback win against Northwestern, the Rutgers wrestling team put a whooping on in-state rival and little brother, Rider. It was a good night to be a Rutgers sports fan.
The win also secured the 14th straight winning season for the Scarlet Knights, and 13th in a row for Coach Goodale, who took over the program in 2007.
Fired up for another winning dual season!#RelentlessPursuit | #GoRU pic.twitter.com/vvHY5vkJ2d— Rutgers Wrestling (@RUWrestling) February 10, 2020
Rutgers is back in action on Friday night against No. 21 Northwestern. The match will also be senior night.
Rutgers 25, Rider 6
125: #25 Nicolas Aguilar (RU) over Jonathan Tropea (RID) by decision, 11-7; RU leads 3-0
133: #10 Sammy Alvarez (RU) over Chris Wright (RID) by major decision, 8-0; RU leads 7-0
141: JoJo Aragona (RU) over #25 Peter Lipari (RID) by decision, 3-2 (TB4); RU leads 10-0
149: Gerard Angelo (RU) over Gino Fluri (RID) by decision, 3-1 (SV1); RU leads 13-0
157: #7 Jesse Dellavecchia (RID) over Michael VanBrill (RU) by decision, 3-1; RU leads 13-3
165: Brett Donner (RU) over Joe Casey (RID) by decision, 5-3; RU leads 16-3
174: #18 Dean Sherry (RID) over Willie Scott (RU) by decision, 5-3; RU leads 16-6
184: #12 Billy Janzer (RU) over George Walton (RID) by decision, 5-3; RU leads 19-6
197: #19 Jordan Pagano (RU) over #7 Ethan Laird (RID) by decision, 4-2 (SV1); RU leads 22-6
285: Alex Esposito (RU) over Ryan Cloud (RID) by decision, 7-4; RU wins 25-6