ATLANTIC CITY - Southern Regional High School's Gerardo Jorge spent more time on the mat Friday at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City than just about any of the 336 wrestlers competing in the state individual wrestling championships.
He also had more fun.
Jorge finished second in District 24 and third in Region 6, but he's one of seven area wrestlers entering today's quarterfinals with hopes of a state title still intact.
The remaining 21 locals - from Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and southern Ocean counties - are still alive in wrestlebacks and can finish as high as third in the tournament, which ends Sunday afternoon.
"It's been great so far," Jorge said though a smile and a bloodied lip. "I'm wrestling good. I have to wrestle better, keep my head up and keep wrestling.
"I have to keep plugging away and try to get on that podium."
Jorge is unseeded in the bottom half of the 170-pound bracket.
He won 4-3 in double overtime against fifth-seeded Nathan Bueno of Becton in the preliminaries. He followed that with a 4-3 double-overtime win against Region 7 champ Kenny Long of Holy Cross, the No. 4 seed.
"I'm just going to come out and wrestle," Jorge said. "I'm not going to worry about what anyone else is doing. … I'm just going to go out there and let it fly. I'm a senior, so if I'm going to go out, I'm going out guns blazing."
Jorge will wrestle bottom bracket top seed Luke Farinaro of Don Bosco Prep in the quarterfinals. Farinaro finished fifth in the state last season and will wrestle at Duke next year.
"It doesn't matter where I am," Jorge said. "If you want to place, you have to beat somebody. I'm just going to keep plugging away and get on that podium."
Holy Spirit's Pat D'Arcy (113 pounds), Southern's Zach Wilhelm (145), St. Augustine Prep's Jack Clark (152), Ocean City's Cooper Gallagher (182), and Millville's Ed Shockley (195) and Obi Kali (220) are still in the hunt for state titles.
D'Arcy finished third in the state last season but on Friday trailed Don Bosco freshman standout Avery Shay 1-0 after two periods.
But D'Arcy reversed Shay midway through the third and tilted him late in the match for a 5-1 decision.
"It was nice to move on, but I have a tough match (today)," D'Arcy said. "I have to focus on that, and hopefully I'll be ready to go."
St. Augustine Prep's Jack Clark won his New Jersey states debut with a 14-5 major decision against Region 3 champ Nick Velez of Westfield. Clark lives in Washington Township, Gloucester County, but attended high school in Maryland until this year.
On Friday, he warmed up on the historic stage at Boardwalk Hall prior to his match.
"It was awesome," Clark said. "They said something like 9,000 fans were here. Warming up was fun. Seeing all my friends from Jersey was fun. Going out there in front of all those people was just a great experience.
"It was awesome. Usually I'm out there (in the stands) watching people warm up and saying, 'Wow, it would be awesome to be there.' So to finally be able to do it was a lot of emotions. It was really awesome."
Clark will wrestle bottom bracket No. 2 seed Joe Grello of Bergen Catholic in the quarterfinals.
Ocean City's Cooper Gallagher also won his first match in the state tournament, winning a 3-0 decision against St. Joseph-Montvale's Vinny Mainiero at 182 pounds.
Gallagher was the No. 6 seed in the bottom bracket. Mainiero was No. 3.
"I want to go for it all," Gallagher said. "I want to win this thing and that match took me a step closer."
Gallagher will wrestle bottom bracket No. 2 seed Nick Costa of Brick Memorial in the quarterfinals.
"Nobody knows me here," Gallagher said. "I'm kind of the underdog. I don't know about anybody else and I want to keep it that way.
"They don't know how I'm going to wrestle. If I perform my best, I can win this thing."
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