Chargers rally for comeback win vs. Eagles as 9-year dual-team postseason drought nears its end

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MEBANE — Northwood 182-pound wrestler Ryan Brinker knew what he had to do when he stepped onto the mat against Jackson Fulcher of Eastern Alamance.

Like a big constrictor, he slithered his bulging biceps around his opponent’s torso, stepped to the side, locked his hands and squeezed against a quickly yielding rib cage. Hard. You could feel Fulcher’s pain from the stands.

And with a mere 40 seconds elapsed in the first period, Brinker got the pin, helping to propel the Chargers to a 42-36 come-from-behind victory in an away match at Eastern Alamance last Thursday. The win put the Chargers one step closer to potentially landing one of two Central 3A conference postseason berths in the NCHSAA state duals tournament.

“The team got me ready, and I went out there and got the fastest pin I’ve had all season,” Brinker said. “(I like) any type of squeeze. I saw my opportunity, I got in there and I just bear-hugged him. As soon as he started to bend over, I knew I could get him over, and I worked from there and got the pin.”

Brinker, a sophomore, thanked his teammates for the win.

“I’m only a second-year wrestler and they’ve taught me everything I know,” he said. “I’m working hard and it’s paying off.”

Brinker saw the match’s momentum shift at 160 pounds, where, coincidentally, teammate Ethan Kuball lost. At that point, the Chargers were down 30-18, but Kuball’s hard-fought match against highly regarded returning state qualifier Julian Rodriguez motivated the visitors, Brinker said.

The Eagles had a 6-4 edge in wins for matches wrestled, but Northwood picked up three of the four forfeit wins, which proved to be the deciding factor. Eastern Alamance had a 27-24 point separation in bonus point matches, notching three pins, a technical fall and major decision, while Northwood scored four falls. Eastern Alamance showed superiority on its feet, with a 16-6 lead in takedowns.

“Some places where we got pinned they could have fought off and just lost by points, but other than that they did pretty good,” Northwood Head Coach Joe Harris said. “I feel good. Our team’s doing good. They’re holding on strong, they’re putting in the work, busting their butts all the time in practice and on the mats.”

“They’re a tough team, we did a lot better than I thought we would,” Eagles Head Coach Bruce Watson said. “We had to give up three weight classes because I’ve got so many people in quarantine, so we gave them 18 points and lost by 6. I can’t complain too much.”

Watson said he was proud of his grapplers, who give up mat experience to every team they wrestle.

“We’re the only team in Alamance County (and) surrounding counties that don’t have middle school wrestling,” he said.

Kaitlyn Watson got Eastern Alamance started with a forfeit win at 106 pounds, and Willfen Lopez decked Northwood’s Sunday Oo with a reverse half at 113 pounds to give the Eagles a 12-0 start.

Oo had Lopez on his back and in trouble in a 6-6 first period, but couldn’t nail him flat.

Northwood 120-pounder Coltrane Northington grabbed a quick takedown, slapped on a half nelson, switched to a reverse half and converted that into a full body press to clamp Leo Wise in the first period. Northwood’s Aiden Vigus then received a forfeit at 126 pounds and the score was knotted, 12-12.

Northwood’s Asher Rockriver drove Carson Gardner to the mat with a double leg takedown at 132 pounds, but got too high on his ride. Gardner latched onto Rockriver’s head and leg and rocked him backwards for a reverse cradle fall at 1:24.

Eastern Alamance returning state qualifier Ivan Benitez then dispatched Andrew Kimbrel in a 17-1 tech fall at 4:54 in the 138-pound bout.

Northwood’s 145-pounder Ron Walker stuffed a takedown attempt by Jahzion Patterson, spun behind for the takedown and stacked him up like cordwood for a 43-second fall to narrow the Chargers’ deficit to 23-18.

But 152-pounder Damien Beaver piled up a 19-7 major decision over Northwood’s Ian Morrison before Rodriguez outpointed Kuball, 4-2, at 160 pounds to give the Eagles a 30-18 advantage. Rodriguez scored takedowns in the first and final periods; Kuball had a takedown in the middle frame.

Northwood’s Cliff Davis picked up a forfeit at 170 pounds, Brinker got the pin at 185 pounds and Northwood’s Angel Becquer-Ramos got a forfeit at 195 pounds to give the Chargers their first lead of the night, 36-30.

Jake Dunning secured the win for Northwood at 220 pounds, pinning Hakim Thompson for a 42-30 lead.

“I went out there like I always do,” Dunning said. “Did my little stretch before I go out there, get those quads nice and warm, went out there, shook his hand, hit my snap-down — which is my go-to move — spun around and got two points. I flattened him out with what I always do, slipped the power half in. He turned and that was the extent of it.”

In the final match of the evening, Eastern Alamance 285-pounder Christopher Gonzales-Turner used his massive size difference to pin Isaac Laccone with a single leg trip and power half. Laccone weighed in at 184 pounds; Gonzales-Turner tipped the scales at 282.

But it was Dunning who helped to rally the Chargers to their comeback after they dropped behind 30-18.

“I got them all in a huddle, and I talked to them and I said, ‘We need to pull this together and we need to pull through and win this because now we only have to beat Western Alamance and we go to states as a team,’ which is something we haven’t been able to do since 2012,” Dunning said.

The Chargers host Western Alamance on Thursday night.

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