St. Aug's Clark celebrates state wrestling title, 'best moment of my life'
ATLANTIC CITY - Jack Clark's homecoming is officially complete.
The St. Augustine Prep senior came home to wrestle in his native New Jersey for one season before heading to North Carolina to wrestle in college next season.
Clark was happy with his choice to come home Sunday after winning a thrilling 3-1 decision in overtime against Hunterdon Central's Gary Dinmore for the 152-pound state title.
Clark became the first Cape-Atlantic League wrestler to win a state title since Holy Spirit's Mac Mancuso in 2007 and the first state champ from the Prep since Bob Malatesta in 1985.
"That was the best moment of my life," Clark said without hesitation. "From beginning to end, that was the most fun match I have ever wrestled."
The match was part of a thrill-filled series of 14 championship bouts that approximately 10,000 fans watched. Tournament officials announced that the three-day event drew a total attendance of 40,108.
The third period and overtime of Clark's final with Dinmore may have been the most action-packed wrestling of the grueling tournament.
"There was tons of action," Clark said. "It was only 3-1, but we both kept going. It was so much fun."
Clark was nearly taken down near the edge of the mat in the closing seconds of regulation. The officials initially awarded Dinmore with a takedown.
"I was going to have a heart attack," Prep coach Bill Ward said.
But the officials got together and waved off the takedown. The match went to overtime tied 1-1.
Clark and Dinmore went back-and-forth for the first part of overtime before Clark shot in deep on Dinmore's leg. Clark switched to a double-leg takedown on the way down to the mat for two points and the 3-1 decision.
Clark and the crowd erupted.
"I couldn't contain myself," Clark said. "I love the sport. I have a ton of fun wrestling. That's why I was so pumped when I won.
"I was so excited. I was so happy. I'm going to be happy for a long time."
Ward was in Clark's corner, along with Prep assistant and Ward's close friend Doug Castellari. Castellari won more than 300 matches as head coach at Buena Regional, and Ward was his assistant for two decades.
The duo coached a lot of great wrestlers at Buena but never had a state champ. Ward and Castellari bear-hugged each other after the sudden-death victory and before Clark joined them in the corner.
"It's the greatest feeling in the world," Ward said. "Watching him finish that takedown was awesome."
Dinmore will wrestle at Penn State next season and is now a three-time runner-up in the state tournament.
He lost state finals in 2012 and 2013 against South Plainfield's Anthony Ashnault, the state's only unbeaten four-time state champ.
Dinmore was the overall No. 1 seed in the weight class and would have been the favorite if not for Clark.
Dinmore joins wrestlers such as former Absegami great Mtume Goodrum and Buena's Bobby Hanson on the list of the best wrestlers never to win a state title. Goodrum was a three-time runner-up at states, and Hanson a three-time top-three finisher with a career 134-5 record.
Dinmore said he appreciated the challenge of wrestling Clark.
"That was my toughest match this year," Dinmore said.
He said he has bigger plans than winning a state title. "I couldn't care less about my high school accolades," Dinmore said. "I just care about college."
Clark grew up and lives in Washington Township, Gloucester County, and regularly attended the state tournament as a fan.
He wrestled in a throwback Prep singlet Sunday with a solid gash under his eye from his semifinal win against bottom bracket No. 1 seed Maaziah Bethea of Trenton Central on Saturday night.
Clark was the aggressor for much of the final.
"I just tried to think about it as any other match," Clark said. "Once I stepped out there, everything was just washed away.
"I don't even know how people reacted to everything. I was just so focused."
Clark finishes his high school career with a 167-15 combined career record between the Prep and the McDonogh School.
He won the District 32 title with three first-period technical falls and was named Most Outstanding Wrestler in the Region 8 tournament this month.
Contact John O’Kane: