NEW PALESTINE — The New Palestine wrestling program has been talking the talk since before the season began.
Wednesday, the Dragons walked the walk.
New Palestine won six of the final eight matches to beat No. 3-ranked Indianapolis Cathedral 39-30 in a dual meet that featured a pair of overtime matches, which the host Dragons captured.
It was an impressive victory for No. 9 New Palestine — whose 14-man lineup featured seven freshmen and sophomores — over defending team semistate champ Cathedral.
“Since Day One, the second we knew Cathedral was on the schedule, it was ‘They’re going to be the big dogs that we have to take down this year,’” said senior 145-pounder Robbie Elsea, who clinched the win for the Dragons with a 6-3 decision over Brant Larson in the next-to-last-match of the evening. “Our saying this year is ‘Team to Beat,’ and we definitely showed that today.
“And it’s going to be the theme for the whole year.”
The Dragons improved to 17-0 and will be favored to win their first sectional title since 2008 come tournament time in late January.
Early in Wednesday’s battle, however, Cathedral made strides toward handing New Palestine its first loss.
After a random draw, the meet began with the 160-pound weight class, and the Irish raced to a 21-9 lead by winning four of the first six bouts.
NP junior Brian Wagner (182) pinned his foe to give the Dragons six points and sophomore Noah Grable (195) added a crucial three team points for the Dragons with his 4-3, triple-overtime victory.
Those victories kept the Irish from building an insurmountable lead as the strength of New Palestine’s lineup came up in rotation with the light weight classes.
Still, the Dragons had a hill to climb in a tense match played out before a substantial crowd. More drama was added as New Palestine head coach Chad Red and Cathedral’s Sean McGinley had various issues with the officiating.
“We knew coming in Cathedral’s a competitive program,” Red said. “They’ve been good way, way before I even got here. So, we knew it was going to be close.
“It was just a matter of staying in the match, staying focused, not losing our composure. Wrestling through the adversity of maybe not agreeing with everything that was going on with the refereeing and what not. We put that behind us and just stayed focused and got the W.”
The momentum shifted when the Irish forfeited to CJ Red, the New Palestine freshman ranked No. 1 in the state at 106 pounds, and then Rylan McCarty (113) and Tommy Cash (120) earned back-to-back pins to give the home team a 27-21 lead.
New Palestine native and Cathedral sophomore Ben Harvey struck for the Irish with a 3-0 decision over Taylor Fee to make it a 27-24 match.
But Jared Timberman (132), Gordon Wagner (138) and Elsea combined for three straight Dragons victories to clinch the win.
Following the match, Red, New Palestine’s first-year head coach, noted that the overtime victories by Grable and Timberman — an unranked sophomore and freshman, respectively — were crucial.
“We grinded those matches out,” Red said. “Both those matches were huge swing matches, because you can tell (pointing to the 39-30 scoreboard), we could be on the other end. Really big matches.”
Had Grable or Timberman been pinned instead of winning, Cathedral would have claimed a 36-33 victory.
Timberman trailed 4-2 with only seven seconds remaining in the third and final regulation period to Cathedral junior John Devine. But he scored a buzzer-beating takedown, then got another takedown in the extra session.
The Dragons’ youngster showed his passion near the end of the match. As Red and McGinley discussed a point of contention with the referee, Timberman turned toward the home crowd, threw his arms in the air and screamed for them to get on their feet.
“I get pumped up pretty easily,” Timberman said. “I was mad the match had got that far, so I was trying to get into it. I wanted to get back into my match.”
Timberman improved to 14-3 on the year; No. 10-ranked Gordon Wagner is 16-1; No. 8 Elsea, 16-1; No. 8 Brian Wagner, 17-0; Grable, 15-2; No. 1 Red, 17-0; McCarty, 17-0; and No. 3 Cash, 16-0.
Fee, ranked No. 11 in the state, dropped to 14-3 with the 3-0 loss to No. 6-ranked Harvey. Heavyweight Willie Bryan (16-1) suffered his first defeat at the hands of Wesley Bernard, Cathedral’s No. 3-ranked big fella.
Fee, Bryan and many of their teammates will likely get another shot at the Irish at the New Castle Semistate in early February. The squads compete in different sectionals and regionals.
Coach Red cautioned against being over-confident.
“Cathedral just got through wining the state title in football, so I know they’re still working some of their guys into the lineup,” he said. “They look solid tonight and I’m sure they’ll be tougher the next time we see them at semistate, and hopefully we will be, as well.
“We’ve still got work to do and we’ll get back to the drawing board tomorrow morning at 6 a.m. to keep making them better.”
Wednesday’s victory kept Red perfect as New Palestine’s head coach. An assistant last year, Red took over the top job when Steve Harding resigned shortly after the 2011-12 season.
“He’s been changing up some stuff,” noted Elsea, one of four seniors in the Dragons’ lineup, along with Fee, Bryan and Gordon Wagner. “Practices are tougher, we’re getting a lot more technique and drilling, and it’s always high energy. Our conditioning’s getting better every day. We’re having morning practices now; we haven’t done that in the past.”
Red, in turn, said the credit belongs elsewhere.
“We’ve got a good group and a good group behind this group,” Red said of the program’s depth. “Morning practices aren’t required for everyone, but 30-32 kids show up. The parents are doing a great job at breakfast, feeding everyone in the morning.
“I’ve been very blessed to be here. It’s been a great thing.”
The Dragons will host a 5-way Saturday that includes Greenfield-Central and Mt. Vernon.
Results and running score of the New Palestine-Indianapolis Cathedral dual wrestling meet Wednesday at New Palestine, which began with the 160-pound weight class:
Weight: result Cath NP
160: Rypel-Smith (C) def. Brickens (NP) 8-2 3 0
170: Huntington (C) def. Pomfret (NP) fall, 3:03 9 0
182: B.Wagner (NP) def. Todderud (C) fall, 3:05 9 6
195: Grable (NP) def. White (C) 4-3, 3OT 9 9
220: Burt (C) def. Yazel (NP) fall, 3:26 15 9
285: Bernard (C) def. Bryan (NP) fall, 2:49 21 9
106: Red (NP, 17-0) won by forfeit 21 15
113: McCarty (NP) def. Lewis (C) fall, 1:27 21 21
120: Cash (NP) def. Speckman (C) fall, 5:23 21 27
126: Harvey (C) def. Fee (NP) 3-0 24 27
132: Timberman (NP) def. Devine (C) 6-4, OT 24 30
138: G.Wagner (NP) def. McNulty (C) fall, :40 24 36
145: Elsea (NP) def. Larson (C) 6-3 24 39
152: Corsaro (C) def. Hunt (NP) fall, 1:17 30 39