TOMS RIVER — Southern Regional High School wrestlers Ben LoParo and J.T. Cornelius gathered behind the bench Sunday night and gave themselves a pep talk.

It worked.

LoParo and Cornelius delivered huge pins in back-to-back matches to help the Rams win the state Group V championship with a 34-27 victory over Hunterdon Central at RWJ Barnabas Health Arena.

"I was talking to J.T., and we figured that if we both got pins that we would win the match," LoParo said. "Then we went out and took care of business."

With the Rams leading 22-15, LoParo pinned Brandon Donoghue with one second remaining in the second period of their 195-pound bout to extend the lead to 28-15.

LoParo was locked in a tight duel before the junior lifted Donoghue off the mat and put him on his back.

"I was just looking for a late takedown, but once I got him in the air I went for the pin," LoParo said. "I've pinned tons of guys like that, and I wanted to do it again."

Conversely, Cornelius earned his meet-clinching pin at 220 with one of his seldom-used moves.

The junior wrapped Salvatore Brito in a head lock just seconds into their bout and turned him for the pin in just 54 seconds to set off a wild celebration among the fans and the team.

"(That was) only the second time I've ever hit that," Cornelius said. "But I knew if I got the pin that the match would be over, and we could go home."

The Rams (20-4) got pins in three of four bouts in the upper weights to earn their second state title in four seasons and the fourth in program history since state finals were first held in 1982. The Rams previously won Group IV in 1997 and 2005.

John Stout gave Southern the lead for good with a second-period fall. He built a 7-0 lead before decking Dan Furmato just one second before the end of the second period, producing a loud roar from the crowd.

Southern 182-pounder Hunter Tatarek followed with an exciting 4-3 decision over Kyle Barrett to increase the Rams' lead to 22-15. Tatarek built a 4-1 lead early in the third period and withstood Barrett's comeback attempt.

Southern's lighter weights made the exciting finish possible with key victories that kept Hunterdon Central (24-2) from gaining early momentum.

Southern 113-pounder Jayson Scerbo opened the meet with a big win, using a takedown and two-point near-fall in the first period to gain a 7-1 decision.

Hunterdon Central gained its first lead at 9-3 with two straight wins, including a 31-second pin by Jack Baur at 126.

Southern answered with consecutive decision victories at 132 and 138, respectively, to tie the match at 9-9.

Sebastian Delligatti earned a big victory for Southern at 132, moving up a weight class and earning a 5-2 decision over Tanner Peake that cut Hunterdon Central's lead to 9-6. Robert Woodcock followed with an 11-5 decision at 138.

At 145, Hunterdon Central's Pasquale Vizzoni prevailed 7-3 over Nicolas Pepe in a hard-fought duel to give the Red Devils a 12-9 lead. Nicholas O'Connell countered for Southern at 152, delivering a dominant performance en route to a 14-4 major decision that put the Rams back in front 13-12.

Hunterdon Central's Norman Cella scored a takedown with a minute left in his 160-pound bout against Southern's Luke Galan to gain a 3-0 decision and give the Red Devils a 15-13 lead.

Then the Rams closed the show.

"I'll never forget this moment," Rams coach John Stout said. "To not only win this, but to do it with my oldest son John on the team just means so much. The whole team deserves a lot of credit for this. These guys just wanted to win, and they found a way."

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Member of The Press sports staff since 1986, starting my 27th season as The Press Eagles' beat writer. Also cover boxing, MMA, golf, high school sports and everything else.

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