Russo's Reign

Mike Russo

Eerie does not begin to describe what happened Friday in Annapolis, Md.

The wild way the Rutgers wrestling team stole victory from the grips of a front-running Navy should not have felt that familiar. But the most unbelievable aspect of the Scarlet Knights' 18-17 victory was that they had seen all of this before — just one week earlier.

The Knights fell behind early in the meet trailing the Midshipmen through nine bouts, and for the second week in a row, their only hope for victory rested in the hands of sophomore heavyweight DJ Russo.

For the second straight dual meet, Russo needed a pinfall. For the second straight dual meet, he earned that pinfall giving Rutgers its first victory over Navy in eight years.

"That was a huge win. It was a signature win for us," Rutgers head coach Scott Goodale said. "It came down to heavyweight, and Russo got it done. Right now, he's just on fire. He believes in himself, he believes in what we're doing and he's been huge for us."

The Midshipmen heavily out-matched the Knights in many of the early bouts, and they earned two major decisions in the first four contests.

But RU's ability to not let up bonus points in either bout proved to be the most crucial aspect of the early parts of the meet.

At 133 lbs., Navy's No. 10 Joe Baker seemed almost a lock for a pin or technical fall over an unranked Mike DeMarco, but Baker could only come away with an 18-6 victory.

The same went for the Midshipmen's Bryce Sadoris, who is ranked seventh in his 149 lbs. weight class. Bust rather than earning bonus points over unranked Kellen Bradley, he won the bout, 16-7

If one of those matches had gone differently, the Knights would not have beaten Navy.

"Our guys did a really good job of avoiding bonus points at 133 lbs. and 149 lbs.," Goodale said. "And Matt Pletcher was huge. He beat a kid who beat him 9-1 earlier in the season."

But the key win for RU came when 197 lbs. Karim Mahmoud upset Navy's Phillip Neese.

"Somewhere along the line we knew we needed an upset," Goodale said. "And Karim Mahmoud was the guy. He deserves a ton of credit. That was the biggest win of the season for him. So Russo getting the pin was huge, but Mahmoud's upset was even bigger."

RU's first win of the match was 141 lbs. Trevor Melde's first win as a ranked wrestler as he took a 4-3 decision over Navy's Matt Pagan.

After Scott Winston won at 157 lbs., senior Matt Pletcher pulled the Knights to within two points with a 3-1 win at 165 lbs.

RU would then drop a tough bout when Mike Whalen dropped a 7-6 contest to No. 20 Luke Rebertus. After falling behind 7-2, Whalen charged back late in the bout, only to be beaten by the clock after scoring on a take-down with 15 seconds left in the match.

The Knights would go on to lose at 184 lbs. and take a 6-1 win at 197 lbs., setting the stage for Russo's heroics.

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