September 25, 2018 | ° F

True grit

Photo by Andrew Howard |

Fifth-year senior Alex'Caruso held on to a 3-2 decision over Matt Epperly on Friday night at the Louis Brown Athletic Center to increase Rutgers' lead to 15-7 heading into the final three bouts. The'Scarlet Knights topped third-ranked Virginia Tech, 24-7.

For those just arriving to the party, consider Friday night a formal introduction.

The No. 14 Rutgers wrestling team not only notched arguably its biggest win in school history over No. 3 Virginia Tech at the Louis Brown Athletic Center, it trounced the Hokies to the tune of a 24-7 victory.

But ask any of the Scarlet Knights, they saw this coming.

"As far as we are concerned, we have been on the map since Day 1," said senior heavyweight DJ Russo. "But as far as everyone else is concerned, I hope this puts us on the map."

Photo: Andrew Howard

Sophomore Joe Langel got the start at 125 pounds and responded by upsetting No. 13 Jarrod Garnett with an 8-7 decision. It is the second time this year that Langel upset a top-15 opponent after defeating Princeton's Garret Frey on Dec. 11 at the College Avenue Gym.

While the win was mathematically in hand for Rutgers when true freshman Mike Wagner held onto a 7-5 decision over Chris Penny at 197 pounds, the 125-pound bout set the tone right off the bat.

Sophomore Joe Langel stepped into the circle opposite No. 13 Jarrod Garnett. The two wrestled an aggressive match, with both grapplers scoring takedowns and reversals. Tied at six late in the third period, Langel pulled off another reversal and was able to hold off a surging Garnett in the final seconds to procure an 8-7 decision.

"We are all on cloud nine right now," Langel said. "Matches like this are all about momentum. Once we got momentum going, it didn't leave our side."

It was one of the six bouts that Rutgers (18-1) was not favored to win. Out of those six bouts, the Knights went on to win four.

"[Our guys] felt the energy in this place. Everybody felt the energy in this place," said head coach Scott Goodale, whose team defeated Rider 29-3 the following day. "We wrestle well [at the RAC]."

After Langel's decision gave Rutgers the early 3-0 advantage, No. 8 Devin Carter put the Hokies in front with a major decision at 133 pounds. It was the last time Virginia Tech (13-4) would have a taste of the lead.

Junior Trevor Melde pulled an upset over No. 13 Chris Diaz at 141 pounds and No. 4 Mario Mason continued his stellar season with a 4-2 decision over No. 8 Brian Stephens to up the Rutgers advantage to 9-4.

"I think some of our guys got a little tired, but that's because of the energy. They wanted to put on a show," Goodale said. "We battled through it, we fought through it, and we won close matches."

The Hokies would pick up only one more win from then on out, as sophomore Scott Winston silenced any notion of a Hokie comeback with a takedown in the overtime period of his 165-pound bout against Pete Yates.

The 7-5 decision sent 2,739 scarlet supporters into a frenzy and made the Knights' bench aware of the history in the making.

"After '65 I was just about positive we were going to win," Russo said. "Aside from something catastrophic happening."

The celebration continued at 174 pounds, where fifth-year senior Alex Caruso would not let a bloody nose stop him from eking out a 3-2 decision over Matt Epperly. When the third period ended, an emotional Caruso raised his hands to the rafters and the crowd obliged, applauding the first-year Knight who is already making a name for himself in Piscataway.

"I think Alex is very excited to be in this situation," Goodale said. "He had a rough couple of years at Lehigh of not being the [starter]. I think this is what he envisioned when he came back [to New Jersey]."

Sophomore Dan Rinaldi and Wagner would also pick up victories to set the stage for the fifth-year senior and team captain, Russo.

The only name on the Rutgers roster that claims seniority to Goodale, Russo's 8-3 decision put a cap on the night — a night that may live on in Rutgers wrestling lore as the night the program launched itself into the national spotlight.

But ask anyone involved and the answer remains the same: The Block R has been on the map for some time.

"I told the guys earlier, ‘We're here. We've arrived,'" Goodale said. "I don't think we need to prove anything anymore."

A.J. Jankowski

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