ATLANTIC CITY — Don’t blame Lex Knapp.
The Lacey Township High School senior has won all 42 matches he has wrestled this season but still is widely considered an underdog.
Knapp has 20 pins, 16 coming in the first period, as well as eight forfeits as teams consistently tried to avoid him during the Lions’ dual-meet season — and for good reason.
But instead of people pointing out how dominant he was, the knock became about whether or not he could wrestle a full six minutes against top-notch competition.
Knapp proved that six minutes was no problem Saturday.
He even worked a little overtime.
Knapp earned a spot in today’s final with a dramatic 2-1 overtime decision against bottom-bracket No. 1 seed Roy Lucas of St. Joseph in a semifinal match at the state individual wrestling tournament at Boardwalk Hall.
He will try to become only the second state champ in school history and the first since Russ Witt won in 1997.
“I’ve been overlooked a lot this year,” Knapp said. “Not a lot of people put me up here with these guys, but I knew what I was capable of.”
The win against Lucas was the eighth straight victory Knapp has picked up by decision, dating back to the second round of the District 24 tournament.
“I knew I have worked hard to go six-plus (minutes) if I need to and I’ve been doing it since districts,” Knapp said. “I did it in all of regions and now I’m doing it down here.”
Strange things tend to happen at Boardwalk Hall in the state tournament, and Knapp’s semifinal win was no different.
The match’s turning point actually came after the final buzzer of the third period.
Knapp and Lucas traded escape points in regulation after a scoreless first period and headed to overtime tied at 1-1.
As the final buzzer sounded, Lucas, an asthmatic, waved his finger and signaled for his second injury timeout of the match to grab his inhaler.
Lucas had no idea that what he had just done basically ended his chances of a state title.
If a wrestler takes two injury timeouts during a match and the match goes to overtime, the wrestler’s opponent gets his choice of what position to start in rather than the typical neutral start in the first overtime.
Knapp chose down and needed just 10 seconds to escape for the 2-1 win.
“I had no idea,” Lucas said of the rule. “I wish I did, but I had no clue. No clue.”
Lucas wasn’t happy after the match and felt he had lost on a bit of a technicality.
“It’s annoying,” Lucas said. “There is nobody at 220 that is holding a kid down for a minute.”
Lucas is wrestling in the state tournament for the second time after winning his first Region 8 title and had hopes of wrestling in today’s state final.
“I expected to win,” Lucas said. “Period.”
Lucas was trying to become St. Joseph’s second state champ and the first since Jack Corcoran won the 215-pound weight class in 2005.
“I’m only a junior,” Lucas said. “This is my second year here. Hopefully next year I can do better.”
Lucas bounced back from the loss just one hour later with a 3-1 decision against freshman Zack Chakonis of Don Bosco Prep, the Region 2 champ.
Lucas will wrestle Region 4 runner-up Anthony Angelone of West Orange in today’s third-fourth place match.
Knapp was well aware of the injury-timeout rule.
“I knew it and when I saw Roy go like this (waving his finger in a circular motion) I got excited,” Knapp said. “I knew I was going down (position).
“I knew there was no one that was going to be able to hold me down. I wanted this way too bad to be kept down. I was just fighting for my life down there.”
Knapp will wrestle top-bracket No. 1 seed Brandon Hull of Phillipsburg. Hull finished eighth in the state at 215 last season and is the only returning state placewinner in the weight class.
“I just want that win,” Knapp said. “I want the state title. This is what I have been working for and I’m looking forward to wrestling (today) and going after it.
“This is what I have been dreaming of, but the dream is far from over. The only way this dream is going to be complete is if my hand is raised (today) in front of all these people.”
Ward comes up short
One of the bigger stories of the day came in the morning session as defending state placewinner Billy Ward lost back-to-back matches and fell one win short of the medal rounds.
He lost a 10-0 major decision to North Bergen’s Anthony Giraldo in the quarterfinals and appeared to aggravate an upper-back injury in the process. He then was knocked out in his first wrestleback match with a 2-0 loss to Eastern sophomore and Region 7 champ Collin Mitchell.
“My back has been bothering me for a while, but that’s not an excuse,” Ward said.
Ward headed into the weekend thinking of nothing but a state title.
He said it was difficult to have that dream ruined and then come back and wrestle an hour later with his season in the line.
“It’s definitely difficult to be thinking first and then lose a match, but you have to reroute yourself,” he said. “It’s horrible. There is nothing really I can do about, I guess. I just have to look forward to next year.”
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