April 25, 2019 | 54° F

Gross charges Rutgers past Illinois in home opener

It was the home opener, Alumni Night and the Razohnn Gross show all in one night, as the No. 11 Rutgers wrestling team defeated No. 12 Illinois, 19-17, on the back of junior Razohnn Gross’ clinching decision at the final whistle.

The entire night rode on the heavyweight bout, as Gross assumed the neutral versus Deuce Rachal of Illinois. Gross sent the Rutgers supporters home with a 3-2 decision and a Scarlet Knights (7-1, 2-0) win, catapulting the squad to a 19-17 victory over the Fighting Illini (1-1, 0-1).

“It was really emotional,” Gross said. “It was a great match, and I know my team needed me, and I’m used to having positions like that. I’m used to moments like that, and I take it in one step at a time.”

Another story coming out of Friday’s affair was the comeback from sophomore 157-pounder John Van Brill. At No. 19, Van Brill scored a fall in the second period after finding himself behind, 7-0, against Illinois’ Kyle Langenderfer.

“I don’t remember having one of those here or anywhere,” said head coach Scott Goodale. “I don’t ever remember being down or dominated 7-0, and coming back and having a fall. It’s very rare. It’s very rare, especially when you have two really good guys. It’s definitely rare, but things happen. It’s a crazy sport.”

As rare as it is, Van Brill says this is not the first time he has found himself down so low. But this time, rather than hold his head low, he seized the opportunity to take down Langenderfer.

“He gave me a look - the first time I got up - he kind of charged at me,” Van Brill said. “I felt that, so the next time that happened, I just gambled on it and it worked out.”

The night saw its start with the 125 pound division, as two freshmen duked it out in Brandon Paetzell and Travis Piotrowski. Paetzell, who has seen a lot of mat time in the absence of senior Sean McCabe, secured a 3-2 victory with a last-second takedown, sending the RAC into a frenzy with Rutgers up, 3-0.

Up to the mat next were junior Scott DelVecchio and fifth-year senior Zane Richards for Illinois. DelVecchio finished sixth at the Midlands Championships last weekend, but he was not able to topple No. 4 Richards, who evened the dual score early on with a 9-7 victory.

In junior 141-pounder Anthony Ashnault’s first match since his third-place finish at Midlands over the weekend, the No. 6 ranked wrestler in the nation assumed total control against Illini Mousa Jodeh. Ashnault garnered over five minutes of riding time en route to a commanding 11-0 major decision.

After a quarterfinal exit for No. 15 Ken Theobold at Midlands and an eighth-place finish for sophomore Anthony Giraldo, the latter took the reins Friday night in a defeat to Eric Barone. Barone scooped up a late decision and riding time to nab the 5-3 decision over Giraldo, with the Knights holding a slight 7-6 edge.

Following Van Brill’s fall, redshirt freshman 165-pounder Willie Scott took the mat against No. 1 Isaiah Martinez, trying to hold the team’s 13-6 advantage. But Scott was on the receiving end of takedown after takedown, and Martinez walked away with a 24-8 technical fall, cutting Rutgers’ lead to two points.

Fifth-year senior 174-pounder Phillip Bakuckas entertained the second in a string of ranked Illinois wrestlers next, as he squared off against No. 12 Zac Brunson. Brunson had the final say with a sudden victory takedown to win, 3-1, pushing Illinois into the lead.

No. 11 and No. 14 came to wrestle next in the only ranked matchup of the evening. Junior 184-pounder Nicholas Gravina and Emery Parker, respectively, fought to an 8-6 fall in favor of the latter.

Making up for Gravina’s loss was freshman 197-pounder Matthew Correnti, whose nearfalls propelled him over Andre Lee, 16-12, sending the dual to a 17-16 scoreline in favor of Illinois, leaving Gross to pick up the pieces in the final match, lending the Knights their second Big Ten victory of the young season.

“What a story,” Goodale said. “First dual meet at the RAC, it comes down to him. Everything he’s been through. Here comes Razohnn in a big spot, and good for him. It was a gritty win, he doesn’t have a whole heck of a lot of experience, but good for Razohnn.”

For more on the Rutgers wrestling team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

Jon Spilletti

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