Phil Bakuckas has been in High Point Solutions Stadium countless times during his time at Rutgers University, but this time was different.
This time was historic.
The stadium doubles as a grueling workout destination for the Rutgers University wrestling team throughout the year.
On Nov. 19, however, the stadium hosted a wrestling match featuring a pair of former Press Wrestlers of the Year in Bakuckas (Hammonton High School) and former Holy Spirit High School star Pat D’Arcy, who wrestles for Princeton.
“The Battle at the Birthplace” was named in honor of the fact that Rutgers and Princeton squared off in the first-ever college football game, with Rutgers pulling out the 6-4 win Nov. 6, 1869.
Rutgers won this showdown, too, in what turned out to be the second largest crowd in NCAA dual history.
A total of 16,178 fans watched the hosts hold on for a 19-16 win.
“We wake up every Friday and run those empty stadium stairs, and then they put the mat on the field and there are 16,000 fans out there,” Bakuckas said. “It was awesome looking up and seeing it.”(tncms-asset)1ff40978-b73e-11e6-b627-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
Bakuckas is a redshirt senior for Rutgers. He was the 2012 Press Wrestler of the Year after a stellar career at Hammonton. Bakuckas won a school-record 132 matches at Hammonton before becoming the first Blue Devil to reach the state finals.
He won his first seven matches of this season this year, including a title at the East Stroudsburg Open, but dropped a 3-1 heartbreaker to nationally-ranked two-time NCAA qualifier Jonathan Schleifer of Princeton in overtime.
“I know I’m right there with every kid in the nation,” Bakuckas said. “It just comes down to me finishing these matches. I’ve been working really hard on all my finishes, so I think when the opportunity comes I’ll be able to finish.”
D’Arcy dropped a 7-2 decision to nationally ranked Tyson Dippery, of Rutgers, in a tough matchup for the Princeton sophomore.
D’Arcy is making the move up to 133 pounds from 125 last season. Dippery, meanwhile, wrestled at 149 last season while reaching the NCAA tournament and actually dropped down to 133 for this year.
D’Arcy came up with a takedown late but Dippery held on for the 7-2 decision.
“The match itself was a tremendous experience and a tremendous opportunity for both programs and for myself,” D’Arcy said. “It’s not every day that you get the chance to go out and wrestle in front of 16,000 fans outside on a football field against a top 10 opponent.”
D’Arcy was the 2015 Press Wrestler of the Year after a historic career at Holy Spirit. He set a new Cape-Atlantic League record with 156 wins. The three-time state placewinner capped off his career with a state title his senior season.
Bakuckas and D’Arcy were both unhappy with the results of their matches on Nov. 19, but neither had to wait long to put that in the past.
Their respective teams each wrestled in the “Grapple at the Garden” on Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
Bakuckas wrestled well again but lost a close decision. The redshirt senior dropped a 4-2 match to two-time All-American Brian Realbuto, of Cornell.
Rutgers, ranked 12th nationally in the USA Today/National Wrestling Coaches Association Division I poll, beat Columbia 39-3 before losing to No. 8 Cornell 28-10.
The Scarlet Knights are now 5-1.
Bakuckas went 18-15 last season on his way to his first appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
He wants to return this season.
The main goal for me is to become an All-American,” Bakuckas said. “I’ve been working really hard since I’ve been here. I know I can hang with the best kids in the nation.
“My goal right now is to win every second of every match. I want to take it one second at a time, one match at a time and see where it goes.”
D’Arcy won a 5-1 decision over Maryland’s Mike Beck on Sunday but lost 4-1 to Buffalo’s Bryan Landry. Princeton beat Maryland 24-9 and Buffalo 28-12.
D’Arcy is a sophomore looking to reach nationals for the first time.
“I definitely have plans for myself, but right now, I just focus on getting better each day,” D’Arcy said. “The college season is so long. You never know what is going to happen, but I feel like if I keep improving each day I’ll put myself in a good position come March.”