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Dramatic finish, amazing home crowd lead #3 NC State wrestling past #8 UNC

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NC State heavyweight, Deonte Wilson, after his dual-sealing victory over UNC
David Tracey/247Sports

NC State (13-0, 3-0) returned to Reynolds last night for a historic showdown with #8 UNC (11-2, 2-1) - this marked the first time that these programs met while both being ranked in the top-10. The Wolfpack were seeking to keep their undefeated record intact and notch another elite victory. But aside from that, it was an important dual to keep a stranglehold on this local rivalry. And that’s just what they did. The Pack won six of ten bouts, and took the dual, 19-14, in front of a record crowd.

The Wolfpack faithful showed up in droves and set the attendance record for an NC State wrestling dual with 4,383 people crammed into Valvano Arena. The energy was electric and it certainly made a difference in more than one bout.

The dual started at 125 pounds, where Jakob Camacho set the tone with a 9-4 victory. His opponent, Melendez, is also a redshirt-freshman, so this should be the first of many battles between these two. Carolina answered with Jaime Hernandez earning a 1-0 decision over Jarrett Trombley at 133. A controversial review at the end of the match denied Trombley what would have been the winning reversal. You hate to blame the referees, as they have a very tough job, but I did not agree with the denial of the reversal in this case, especially since they took the opportunity to go to the monitor and get it right. This was just one of a few calls that I felt impacted the dual in a negative way for the Wolfpack.

At 141, Tariq Wilson came out and defended his home mat against Zach Sherman. This was a hugely important matchup for both teams, and Tariq delivered with a shutout of the #11 ranked wrestler in the country. Once again, Carolina answered right back with a 6-5 decision at 149. #3 Austin O’Connor suffered some pretty serious cramps early in the bout and really had to dig deep to squeak out the win over Matt Grippi.

The Pack matched Carolina’s jewel in O’Connor with their own at 157. Hayden Hidlay pushed the pace and pushed AC Headlee all over the mat for seven minutes, but ultimately fell one point short of the major decision. The curious lack of stall calls against Headlee was another one of my points of contention with the officiating. In a more appropriately officiated match, I think Hayden gets the major.

At 165, the Pack coaching staff made a critical error that nearly cost the team the dual. Rather than sending out Thomas Bullard, who had a legitimate shot at beating the Tarheels’ Kennedy Monday, Popolizio decided to send out back-up Tyler Barnes. The result was a technical fall, and five team points for Carolina. From there, you could really feel the momentum shift in Reynolds. North Carolina only needed to split the four remaining matches to escape Raleigh with the win, and everyone - including Pat Pop - was beginning to realize it.

The Pack would take care of business in the next two bouts, where Daniel Bullard and Trent Hidlay would earn a decision and major decision, respectively. Realizing the situation, and not wanting to give Carolina any momentum going into the final bout of the evening, Popolizio sent out Reenan at 197 to try and ice the dual. However, this was not the Reenan we’ve been waiting for all season. He is continuing to struggle with his knee recovery and ended up taking a 7-0 loss to unranked Brandon Whitman. This brought the team tally to 16-14 going into the final bout of the evening - essentially rendering it a winner-take-all.

For the Pack to avoid the upset, they would need Deonte Wilson to play hero at heavyweight. He was confident coming out to the mat, but that still didn’t quell the palpable nerves in Reynolds. Tensions remained high as the bout was competitive down to the final whistle. With a 3-2 lead late, Wilson had to fend off a slew of attacks. Carolina’s Gunning eventually ended up getting in deep on a leg attack with ten seconds remaining, and it looked like he was in good position to finish for the victory. However, Deonte fed him some good hips and ended up spinning behind for the takedown. At that moment, Reynolds let out a collective gasp of relief and erupted like a volcano of thrill. The environment was one-of-a-kind and you could tell that the team and Deonte were eating it all up.

I can’t get enough of these videos!

#3 NC State 19-14 #8 UNC

  • 125: #16 Jakob Camacho (NCSU) dec. Joey Melendez; 9-4 (3-0 NCSU)
  • 133: Jaime Hernandez (UNC) dec. Jarrett Trombley; 1-0 (3-3)
  • 141: #14 Tariq Wilson (NCSU) dec. #11 Zach Sherman; 6-0 (6-3 NCSU)
  • 149: #3 Austin O’Connor (UNC) dec. Matt Grippi; 6-5 (6-6)
  • 157: #2 Hayden Hidlay (NCSU) dec. #11 AC Headlee; 9-2 (9-6 NCSU)
  • 165: #16 Kennedy Monday (UNC) tech fall Tyler Barnes; 20-5 (9-11 UNC)
  • 174: #16 Daniel Bullard (NCSU) dec. Clay Lautt; 8-4 (12-11 NCSU)
  • 184: #3 Trent Hidlay (NCSU) major dec. Joey Mazzara; 13-5 (16-11 NCSU)
  • 197: Brandon Whitman (UNC) dec. #22 Nick Reenan; 7-0 (16-14 NCSU)
  • 285: Deonte Wilson (NCSU) dec. Andrew Gunning; 5-2 (19-14 NCSU)

The victory was huge for the program, but what can’t be measured is the impact that was made by how it all went down. For almost 4,400 Pack fans, many of whom were likely first-timers to a wrestling match, to experience that level of drama and excitement is so incredibly important for this team. There’s no way you could have been there for all of that, and not want to come back for more. This could be the start of something big for Pop & Co. This is what they’ve been working for since they came to Raleigh - to establish a wrestling culture in a state that is historically dominated by basketball.

They’ll look to keep things rolling with another top-10 victory next Friday when Virginia Tech comes to town. I can’t imagine a better Valentine’s Day date for you and your significant other.