INSTANT CLASSIC: Nazareth beats Becahi for state wrestling title
Were you entertained?
Saturday’s PIAA 3A wrestling state championship between Bethlehem Catholic and Nazareth came down to the final bout, where the winner took all and Zac Kiefer instantly became a Nazareth legend, following his 2-1 victory over Tavion Banks in the 170-pound finale to give the Blue Eagles a 30-29 state championship victory over Bethlehem Catholic.
It was a stunning match from start to finish and that we’ll likely never see again.
It’ll also be one that Hawks’ head coach Jeff Karam will never forget either, of course, for all the wrong reasons.
“The better team won,” said Karam. “They’re a well-coached team and I have a lot of respect for them. They have a great team over there and they should be proud. This was an all-time classic match, let’s face it. We fell a point short and that’s the bottom line.”
Every move, every counter, every single decision and call mattered in Hershey’s Giant Center Saturday afternoon and Karam can look back at an array of turning points that determined the outcome of a state title defeat that hinged on Criteria D (Most matches won, 8-6 in favor of Nazareth).
After the Hawks got massive falls from Jarred Papcsy (132) and Luke Carty (138) in back-to-back fashion, Becahi led 29-14 with four bouts left.
The odds were in the Hawks favor heading down the stretch, but fate was in Nazareth’s corner. The Hawks fell apart in their final four matches, losing all four, to add to the mystique of a fabled Blue Eagle victory that will last forever.
The downturn began at 145 when Nathan Stefanik scored a 4-2 decision over Luca Frinzi, flipping a 3-1 result from last week’s district championship to give Nazareth the life they needed, as well as a jolt of confidence after watching the Hawks deck two of their teammates in quick fashion.
That brought Sammy Sasso (152) to the mat, where he dispatched Garhett Gibson with a 21-5 tech fall in 4:55 to pull Nazareth within 29-22. Brock Wilson (160) then scored an 8-0 major decision over Ryan Zeiner, which may have been the most pivotal bout, as Zeiner was charged with four stalling points. It was the difference between a major and a decision. A difference that came out to be the one point that Nazareth needed.
“We knew the scenario going in and all he needed was to stay with a decision and that ref somehow found a way for Ryan to give up four stalling points,” Karam said. “That’s one match I just didn’t agree with the stall calls. Their kid had in a leg and a bar and when you have that, you’re not moving. I’m not sure if he (ref) was influenced by the environment, but our guy couldn’t move.”
That set up the ultimatum for Banks and Kiefer heading into the bout’s finale. Win and you bring home a state title.
Kiefer, a senior, who spent time at Becahi last year, had enough veteran savvy to top the freshman Banks and the rest, they say, is history.
“I wasn’t as nervous as someone would be,” said Kiefer. “Sammy [Sasso] really helped me prepare going into the match. I knew when Nathan [Stefanik] won, we had a chance and I was confident going into my bout.”
The Hawks won the first swing bout of the afternoon when Andrew Balukas won a 10-6 decision over Tucker Klump at 195, providing a flip from the district final, but one loss that really stung Becahi was Ryan O’Grady’s 8-0 major decision over Zach Glenn at 120. Glenn won by a 4-1 score a week ago and a win there would have made it very difficult for Nazareth to pull out the victory.
Instead, it provided reference for what could have been on an afternoon where Nazareth did more little things right to earn the title as state champs.
“To be honest, we were really looking at this as a rebuilding year coming into the season,” Karam said, “but Nazareth really earned this. As a coach you want to use this as motivation and hope you can turn it around. In my whole life of coaching, that was probably the best match I’ve ever been apart of. Two District 11 teams wrestle for the state title and it ends in criteria. You couldn’t have written a better script, except, we’d obviously like to be on the other side of it.”