A loud, standing room only crowd packed the gym at Niagara Wheatfield H.S. on Wednesday night for the annual Niagara Cup match between WNY Athletics #1 Wheatfield and #2 Niagara Falls.
Both squads entered the match undefeated (4-0) in Niagara Frontier League action. The #1 local and #15 state ranked Falcons have won the last three Niagara Cups while the last win for Falls came in the 2014-2015 season. The Wolverines entered the match as a NYSSWA Honorable Mention team in the latest wrestling poll and with a season record of 16-0.
The Falcons won ten out of the fifteen bouts picking up five pins to roll to a 49-24 victory. With the win, the Falcons move into sole possession of first place with five NFL wins and two league matches left on the schedule. In all likelihood, the outcome of this match will determine the 2018-2019 NFL champion. Also, Niagara Wheatfield should be the #2 seed at next Saturday’s Section VI Division I Dual Meet Championship behind Olean.
“It feels good, not just to win a match but to kind of dominate points-wise” stated Wheatfield head coach Rick Sweney after the win. “There’s been a lot of ‘rivalry’ flowing through these schools for years. A lot of these kids wrestle with each other over the summer…this has been building up.” Sweney spent twenty-five years as a wrestling coach at Niagara Falls before spending the last sixteen at Wheatfield.
The dual started at 160-pounds where the Falls’ Joe Dixon earned a tough 7-2 decision win for the Wolverines. Teammate Levi Cox contributed a first period pin at 170-pounds to get six team points for Falls and the momentum in their favor now up 9-0 after two bouts.
However, defending Section VI champion Josh Thibeault (season record 26-2) came out fired up for the Falcons and earned a second period pin for the home squad and some momentum. “I train for this…I work hard with my team for this” said Thibeault after the win. “We expect to dominate.”
Despite the win by Thibeault, Niagara Falls would take the next two bouts. Censere Humphrey countered Thibeault’s pin with one of this own at 195-pounds. Then, PJ Young earned a hard fought decision win over the Falcon’s sectional place winner Kevin Halford at 220-pounds to make the team score 18-6 Wolverines.
Four wins in the first five bouts had Niagara Falls feeling good, but things changed at 285-pounds.
Coach Sweney sent Andre Clause out at heavyweight against the Falls’ Omar Rifai. After trailing in the match, Clause came up with a huge third period pin to ignite the Wheatfield bench.
7th grader Te’Shaun Mathews used three overtimes to earn a 7-3 decision win at 99-pounds to put together back to back wins for Wheatfield and bring the team score to within a one match reach of the Falls, 18-15.
Elijah Greenough and sectional place winner Mark Kuhn earned back to back pins at 106 and 113-pounds, respectively, to really get the crowd going. The 18-6 deficit going into the 285-pound match became a 27-18 advantage after four bouts.
In one of the more critical bouts of the evening defending Section VI champion Collin Coughenour earned a 12-6 decision at 120-pounds over Niagara Falls sectional place winner Mike Snowden. Coughenour qualified for the 113-pound class at weigh ins and Snowden wrestled the first half of the season at 126. Surely Coughenour gave up some weight but got the job done for his team.
At 126-pounds another Section VI place winner in Kyle Jungier cruised to a 17-2 tech fall good for five team points. With the team score 35-18 and four bouts left Wheatfield’s Justin McDougald, a three-time sectional champion and two-time state finalist, sealed the Falcon win with another 17-2 tech fall to make the team score 40-18.
Sectional finalist and state tournament wildcard Jake DeWolf gutted out an 8-2 decision over the Falls’ Josh McCoy, also a sectional runner-up, at 138-pounds. The Wolverine’s defending NYS champion Willie McDougald ended Wheatfield’s eight-bout win streak with a pin at 145-pounds. Finally, Warren McDougald, a three-time Section VI champion and two-time state placer pinned his Wolverine opponent to complete the Wheatfield win and retain the Niagara Cup for another year.
After the win, Coach Sweney didn’t hesitate to commend the Niagara Falls team and program led by head coach DJ Giancola. “Niagara Falls works hard” Sweney stated. “They’ve got good coaches and an excellent program. It’s probably the most kids I’ve ever seen on that team…they’ve got probably just as many as we’ve got. I haven’t seen that many kids on that team in over twenty years. It’s exciting for them and I’m glad for them.”
Niagara Wheatfield moves to 5-0 in the NFL and 8-1 overall with the win. Niagara Falls drops to 4-1 in the league and 16-1 overall this season in the loss.
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