September 17, 2019 | 59° F


Five times the Rutgers wrestling team competed at the Louis Brown Athletic Center and five times it came away victorious.

But the No. 14 Scarlet Knights will put that perfect record on the line at the RAC tonight when No. 3 Virginia Tech marches into Piscataway.

"There's been a lot of hype about our team this year. It's going to be a big match," said senior Daryl Cocozzo. "Everybody's got to wrestle their match. Everybody has to take that next step."

The Hokies (13-3) mark the toughest challenge for head coach Scott Goodale's squad since Nov. 21, when the Knights (16-1) faced Penn State β€”the No. 2 team in the country. Rutgers fell to the Nittany Lions, 22-10, but have not lost since, winning 12 in a row.

Virginia Tech will certainly test that streak.

"What we need to do tomorrow is to wrestle hard for seven minutes," Goodale said. "The one thing that stands out from watching them is they are very athletic in every situation. They are mat rats. So if we get them in a hold, we have to be able to keep it."

The clash of the two up-and-coming programs features 12 grapplers ranked in the top 20 of their respective weight classes and three bouts will pit one ranked wrestler against another.

"It's a big match, but I like to approach every match the same," said No. 17 Cocozzo, who will face off against No. 8 Jesse Dong in the 157-pound weight class. "I know [Dong] is someone that likes to go out there and be excited, but I just have to wrestle at my pace and slow things down."

In a match that could easily see both sides take five bouts apiece, bonus points would decide the outcome. A regular decision earns three points for the team score while a major decision β€” a decision with a margin of victory greater than eight points β€” yields four team score points. If a wrestler wins his match by more than 15 points, the team gets five points and the team can win six points if there is either a pin or a forfeit.

Bonus points were the deciding factor on Nov. 27, when the Knights upset Missouri, 19-16.

"[Bonus points] are not something we tend to talk about," said senior Alex Caruso. "Everyone just takes it one match at a time and if there are bonus points out there to get, then everyone is going to do what it takes to get them."

However, Rutgers was not the only team in recent history to take advantage of bonus points, as they were the clincher on Jan. 8 when Virginia Tech knocked off then-No. 2 Oklahoma State by an 18-16 score at the National Duals.

The Hokies also took down ranked opponents in Wisconsin and Central Michigan at the Duals before falling to No. 1 Cornell.

But past triumphs on both sides matter naught when the two clash in front of what should be a raucous crowd.

"That's just part of the storyline. They are confident," Goodale said. "Part of the reason they are excited is because they know we are going to put some people in the stands. They probably don't get that everyday in Blacksburg."

The Rutgers' crowd could help bring the best out of some Knights who may not be favored in their matchup.

"Every weight class has a job to do," Goodale said. "Where we are outmanned, we need to wrestle hard. We have to keep ourselves in the match. People say it's not a team sport, but it's going to take a total team effort to win."

And if Rutgers is able to hold its own and win the toss-up matches, the Knights would certainly be on track to enter the top 10 in the coaches' poll β€” just another plaque on the wall of a program on the rise.

"We definitely have the talent and the wrestlers [to be a top-10 team]," said Caruso, who spent his first four years at perennial powerhouse Lehigh. "[Tonight] is all about being focused and having the intensity to get the job done."

A.J. Jankowski

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