WANTAGE — There should never be any discounting the High Point wrestling program.
The Wildcats had a rare losing record heading into annual matchup with undefeated Kittatinny after suffering a pair of lopsided losses to Mount Olive and Southern early in the season.
But with Sussex County supremacy on the line, High Point was not going to waver.
With the match starting at 144, the Wildcats kept it close then pulled away with five wins in six bouts between 106 and 138 pounds to storm off with a 43-21 victory over the Cougars on Wednesday night at High Point High School.
"Our kids face a very difficult schedule, it's always been set up that way," High Point coach John Gardner said. "They know what to expect, but when you're going through some of the difficult times, it's tough to work your way through.
"Tonight was an opportunity where they got to show off in their own gym with a crowd. I'm really happy they performed as well as they did."
The match proved that High Point, the 28-time sectional champions and six-time state champions, has not disappeared.
With the match already clinched, Ty Woods ended it with an exclamation mark. He was trailing by a point with 17 seconds left but was able to score a takedown with five seconds left to score a 6-5 win and keep the good vibes going.
Down the stretch, High Point's Nick Clayton and Clayton Utter notched pins at 113 and 120 pounds, respectively, and Carson Citro clinched the match with a 9-0 major decision at 126.
"We lost to them last year, that one was rough. This year, we've come off a couple losses — a little down and out, but we fight," High Point senior Noah Ripley said. "That's what we do. That's how it's always been here. We keep fighting and we'll be back on top. This one feels great."
What it means
The Wildcats have never been able to find consistency early in the 2021-22 season as they have had to deal with injuries, issues with COVID-19 and constant stops and starts.
Wednesday's victory proved just how dangerous High Point can be when it begins to compete regularly and continues to heal.
"We're getting pretty close. I don't think the kids that we have in the lineup and even some of the kids you didn't see tonight, I don't think they're at their peak," Gardner said. "We don't have to be there until the end and that's the important piece. We're going to keep working and try to get better."
The win also gave the Wildcats an early edge in the NJAC-Freedom where they still have to face Jefferson and Newton.
Kittatinny learned what it has through the middle with Steven and Ethan Dalling, who both collected pins at 157 and 165 pounds, respectively. Ty Eldred gives them another hammer in the upper weights.
The Cougars will go as far as the lower half of their lineup can take them. They've proven they can still be a threat in Group 1 after a one-point win over Delaware Valley last week.
Pick me up
Senior Andrew Brevot remembers the senior leadership of the 2019-20 High Point team, led by Devon Liebl, Billy Talmadge and PJ Soldano, which ended up winning the Group 2 title.
It was all about setting the tone.
In a huge matchup against their rival, Brevot wanted to send an early message moving up a weight to 144 pounds.
He trailed 2-0 after the opening period but was able to escape with 45 seconds in the second, pancaked Kittatinny's Reece Smith and scored three back points with under 10 seconds left.
Brevot went on to win a 6-2 decision to help High Point out to a strong start.
"It means if you work hard in the room, you'll see results," Brevot said. "I've been putting time in the room for four years. I don't do a lot of offseason stuff, but I know as long as I push myself in the room and I let the coaches push me, I will see results."
In nearly all the swing matches, the Wildcats got results from their upperclassmen, who were set on turning the page. Shane Woolf earned a 3-1 win in the next bout at 150, Troy Tiger used a pair of takedowns to grab a 5-0 win at 175.
Brian Soldano jumped High Point ahead with a pin and one of the biggest turning points came at 215 pounds as Noah Ripley scored a takedown against Kittatinny's Jay Martin at the second-period buzzer and another with 40 seconds left in the match to score a 5-1 win and give High Point the cushion it needed to pull away.
“That was a big match, not only for the team but for me too,” Ripley said. “That guy was big, tall, strong. I couldn’t get any movement up top, and I was just waiting for him to take a shot or get something going and score off his shot.”
The Wildcats saw their unheralded wrestlers dig deep and do enough to help them score a much-needed victory.
"The team piece, for us, is very important," Gardner said. "It's an emphasis for our program and the kids work really hard for the team to be successful. Sometimes for our guys that piece is more important than individual success."
High Point will look to carry the momentum of its win into a road matchup against Sparta on Thursday.
The challenges will continue for Kittatinny, which welcomes Phillipsburg on Friday.
This article originally appeared on New Jersey Herald: NJ wrestling: High Point rolls to win over Kittatinny in rivalry match