EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP - The situation was anything but ideal for Middle Township High School's Brandon Curtis on Friday night during the Region 8 quarterfinals.
Returning state qualifier Anthony Racobaldo of Williamstown jumped out to a 10-0 lead against Curtis at 132 pounds and appeared to be well on his way to today's semifinal round at EHT High School.
One problem - nobody told Curtis.
Curtis managed to turn Racobaldo and headlocked him for the pin as Middle's cheering section erupted.
"I just knew I had to wrestle my hardest," said Curtis, the No. 7 seed. "My coaches were telling me that the region tournament was the best of the best. There are no bad kids here.
"Going in as the seven seed, I just had to wrestle as hard as I could to get it done."
Second-seeded Racobaldo won his first 32 matches of the season and is on a short list of wrestlers expected to compete for a state title next weekend in Atlantic City. Racobaldo eclipsed the 100-win plateau this season as only a junior, and his only loss this year came on an illegal slam call in the District 30 final.
None of that fazed Curtis.
"I was pretty confident," Curtis said. "I've never been to regions before. I only started wrestling as a freshman, but I've gotten a lot better since then."
"Going in to that match, I just knew that he was good, I was good and whoever was better was going to come out on top."
Curtis will face third-seeded Stewart Richardson of Schalick, the District 31 champ, in today's semifinals.
The semifinals will start at 10 a.m. today with wrestlebacks to follow. The finals are expected to begin around 4 p.m.
The top three wrestlers in each of the 14 weight classes will advance to the State Individual Wrestling Championships at Boardwalk Hall from March 7-9.
Clark and Whitney
Hammonton's Kellen Whitney and St. Augustine Prep's Nick Clark are each top seeds and each came into the quarterfinals on a mission.
Whitney is the No. 1 seed at 170 pounds and improved to 39-0 this season with a second-period pin against No. 9 seed Chad Watt of Woodstown.
"I've got my eyes on the prize," Whitney said.
Whitney's quest for a region title began one day after last season's Region 8 tournament. He finished fourth and missed out on a trip to states by one match.
Whitney said he was back on the mat the next day with this weekend in mind.
"I don't want to feel that feeling again that I felt last year," Whitney said. "I have my eyes set on what I want to do, and I'm going to do all I can to achieve that goal.
"Hopefully all the work I put in during the season pays off now."
Whitney will wrestle fourth-seeded Jordon Warren of Highland Regional in the semifinals.
Clark is the top seed at 160 and won a 9-3 decision against eighth-seeded Sean Platt of Millville in a rematch from earlier this season.
"I wrestled him earlier in the year and he beat me 8-6 so I knew coming into this match I could beat him," Clark said. "All I needed to do was wrestle harder than I did before."
And that's just what he did.
Clark said he was happy about the pairings, despite having to open with someone that had already beaten him this season.
"I loved it," Clark said. "Right after I lost to him I told myself I was going to see him in regions and I'm going to make him pay for beating me."
Clark will wrestle fourth-seeded Joe Cutugno of Atlantic City in the semifinals.
There are 25 wrestlers from Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties still in the mix for a region title. The 20 from those schools who lost Friday can still wrestle back and finish as high as third place.
All four wrestlers in the 182-pound semifinals are from the Cape-Atlantic League. The only weight class without a single local wrestler in the top of the bracket is 138.
Contact John O'Kane: