All season long, River Hill has been just about unbeatable between 170 and 285 pounds, and at 106 and 113.
But in the 3A/4A state dual meet championship match at North Point High Saturday evening, Urbana was able to poke just enough holes in that airtight stretch of wrestlers to deflate the River Hill juggernaut, 36-28.
It was River Hill's first trip to the state dual meet finals since 2004. The Hawks won their only state dual meet championship a year before that, in 2003.
The match couldn't have started at a more favorable weight class than 170 for River Hill, and sophomore Cory Daniel's decision gave the Hawks from Howard County a 3-0 lead.
But at 182, Urbana — whose mascot is also a Hawk — made its first dent in River Hill's gameplan when Joe Rimel pinned Omar Messallam in the second period.
"I wrestled in River Hill's room in the preseason with coach (Brandon) Lauer. I really didn't expect to get the pin," said Rimel, the seventh ranked 182-pounder in the state. "I thought it was going to be a lot closer. I have full respect for Omar and I know he has respect for me."
Lauer said that he will continue to welcome opposing wrestlers into Team Penguin — the offseason wrestling club hosted by River Hill — even if one of those pupils did contribute to River Hill’s loss in the state championship match.
“I don’t regret it one bit. I want kids to be the best wrestlers that they can be, wherever they’re from,” said the three-time state champion. “It’s a little frustrating (to lose the match) but I’m glad to see them having success.”
River Hill responded to Rimel's pin with consecutive pins by Logan Kirby (195), Jacob Benedict (220), with 25 seconds left in the third period, and Jason Johnson (285), in only 22 seconds, to stake a 21-6 lead.
"We knew that we had to get bonus points up at the top, where our strength has been," Kirby said.
But the question was whether or not the 15-point cushion would be enough to carry River Hill through the rest of the match, with most of its best wrestlers having already come off of the mat.
The lead became even more tenuous when two of Urbana's best wrestlers, Morgan Way (106) and Jimmy Allen (113), defeated Michael Beck and Taariq Mohammed, two of River Hill's best, by close decisions to cut the lead to 21-12.
"We knew they were really good up top, we knew they were really good down low, and we knew it was going to be a battle in the middle," Rimel said.
With the match now in the hands of its less heralded grapplers, River Hill had to hope to avoid giving up bonus points down the stretch.
"Our kids tried to do their best and stay off of their backs and not get pinned but it just didn't turn out that way," Kirby said.
Matt Steinheimer (120, major decision), Dave Abretski (126, tech fall), J.T. Freeze (132, pin) and Nick Frank (138, pin) teamed up to score 21 points, giving Urbana six consecutive wins, and turning a 21-6 deficit into a 33-21 advantage.
"The momentum swing at that point ... we knew going in that it was going to be a dogfight to win those lower bouts but if we won them than it looked really good at the middle there where we finished," Urbana coach Ben Arneson said.
By that point, Urbana had also used all of its best wrestlers, but River Hill would need to score 12 points over the final three bouts to win the match, a tall order.
"I would have rather had the match in my hands, or in the hands of the other upperweights," said Kirby, a sophomore. "But it's where the draw comes. We knew that it was going to have to come down to the middleweights and we had too much of a deficit. It was really hard to overcome."
Casey Guthier won a 10-3 decision at 145 to mathematically keep River Hill alive, but when Urbana's Danny Morley won 8-2 at 152, he clinched his school's first state dual meet championship.
"Those guys believed and they went out and did their jobs, we performed in the end to do what we needed to," Arneson said. "They put all of their heart into it and they knew what was on the line and what was at stake."
Jack Noonan (160) ended the match with a 9-1 win for River Hill, but by then, Urbana's celebration had already begun.
River Hill wrestled a grueling dual meet schedule this season, taking losses to some of the top public schools, private schools and even teams from out of state along the way.
"We got good competition outside and it prepared us well for this match, but it was just hard," Kirby said. "We'll return a lot of (wrestlers) next year and they'll mature and develop and hopefully we'll be back in this position next year, hopefully winning it."
Despite the loss, River Hill will still be the favorite to win the Howard County championships, Feb. 17 and 18 at Oakland Mills.
Urbana “outwrestled us in the close matches ... they did a good job of not giving up bonus points,” Lauer said. “But this team still has three weeks in front of us and I’m excited for the opportunity for these guys, because I think they’re going to have some success.”
Urbana 36, River Hill 28 (3A/4A state championship match)
170: Cory Daniel (RH) dec. Mike Virnelson (U), 3-2. [0-3]
182: Joe Rimel (U) pin Omar Messallam (RH), 3:23. [6-3]
195: Logan Kirby (RH) pin Jason Conner (U), 2:10. [6-9]
220: Jacob Benedict (RH) pin Drew Thomas (U), 5:35. [6-15]
285: Jason Johnson (RH) pin Nick Keller (U), :22. [6-21]
106: Morgan Way (U) dec. Michael Beck (RH), 6-2. [9-21]
113: Jimmy Allen (U) dec. Taariq Mohammed (RH), 4-0. [12-21]
120: Matt Steinheimer (U) maj. Lee Carter (RH), 11-0. [16-21]
126: Dave Abretski (U) tech. Patrick Linden (RH), 15-0/4:00. [21-21]
132: J.T Freeze (U) pin Christian Lee (RH), 3:01. [27-21]
138: Nick Frank (U) pin Brian Kirby (RH), 5:13. [33-21]
145: Casey Guthier (RH) dec. David Campbell (U), 10-3. [33-24]
152: Danny Morley (U) dec. Donovan Delore (RH), 8-2. [36-24]
160: Jack Noonan (RH) maj. Jacob Thomas (U), 9-1. [36-28]
Defending state champion Glenelg saw its season end in the 1A/2A semifinals, 33-31, to Owings Mills.
"You could go through every match and think something that could or could not have happened, and that's what you expect in the (state tournament)," Glenelg coach Chris Rosas said. "Bonus points here or there, it's a pin here or there that you did or didn't get that makes the difference in the match."
A highlight in the match for Glenelg came at 120 pounds, when senior Ricky Gezelle — trailing his opponent 9-0 heading into the third period — used three tilts for nine backpoints to tie the match, and then with only three seconds left, secured the pin.
"He's a third year wrestler, first year starting on varsity. He's lost some matches but to tilt a guy three times to tie it up and then pinning him, if he doesn't do that it's not even close. That kept us in it and that was really important for him," Rosas said.
Owings Mills built a 30-13 lead, but senior Tyler Asher's pin at 170 kept his team mathematically alive with three bouts left. Even though Glenn Lucas (195) and Justin Jung (220) closed out the match with pins, a win by Owings Mills' Alex Solomon at 182 clinched the win for the Golden Eagles.
"I was excited," Asher said. "We wrestled well with all of the seniors that we lost (from the 2011 state championship team), we have a lot of tough guys. It's just disappointing to lose this one."
River Hill clinched its win over North Hagerstown with three bouts left when Patrick Linden won a 9-7 decision at 132, allowing his team to rest its wrestlers at the next three weight classes in preparation for the finals.
The match started at 160, and the Hawks built a 35-3 lead on the strength of pins by Logan Kirby (195), Jacob Benedict (220), Jason Johnson (285) and Michael Beck (106), major decisions by Jack Noonan (160) and Omar Messallam (182) and a decision by Taariq Mohammed (113).
Johnson found himself trailing North Hagerstown's Dylan Dopson with less than 15 seconds left in the 285-pound match, but reversed Dopson to his back and secured the pin with only four seconds remaining.
"I completely understimated him, I got too caught up in the rankings. He was much stronger than me and I found myself trailing," said Johnson, the fourth ranked heavyweight in the state. "I took a desperation shot and I felt him pushing against me and I rolled him ... at that point I was just hoping for the decision until I heard my coach (Brandon Lauer) yelling 'Go for the pin!'"
River Hill won its only state dual meet title in 2003, losing in the finals in 2000 and 2004.
Correction: An earlier version of this box score misidentified Glenelg's wrestler at 126 and Owings Mills' wrestler at 138.
Owings Mills 33, Glenelg 31 (1A/2A state semifinal)
285: Sean Twigg (G) dec. Darius Carroll (OM). [0-3]
106: Jacob Rendelman (OM). [6-3]
113: Brandon Bekar (OM) pin Chris Winter (G), 1:40. [12-3]
120: Ricky Gezelle (G) pin Andrew Dardick (OM), 5:57. [12-9]
126: Dan Grossman (OM) pin Harry Rahn (G), 4:26. [18-9]
132: Zach Shapiro (OM) dec. Austin Pagnotta (G), 6-1. [21-9]
138: Ryan Carter (G) maj. Azemat Akmedov (OM), 15-5. [21-13]
145: Adriene Hazel (OM) dec. Joe Zoller (G), 6-0. [24-13]
152: Demetrius Johnson (OM) dec. Troy Walter (G), 10-4. [27-13]
160: Taran Carr (OM) dec. Anthony Pagnotta (G), 3-0. [30-13]
170: Tyler Asher (G) pin Abdul El-Omari (OM), 3:00. [30-19]
182: Alex Solomon (OM) dec. Curran Robertson (G), 10-6. [33-19]
195: Glenn Lucas (G) pin Tyquez Shade (NH), 1:12. [33-25]
220: Justin Jung (G) pin Russele Barnes (OM), 3:21. [33-31]
River Hill 38, North Hagerstown 31 (3A/4A state semifinal)
160: Jack Noonan (RH) maj. Michael Leone (NH), 17-9. [4-0]
170: Kenneth Burrs (NH) dec. Cory Daniel (RH), 7-3. [4-3]
182: Omar Messallam (RH) maj. Connor McHose (NH), 16-8. [8-3]
195: Logan Kirby (RH) pin Antonio Rosario (NH), :42. [14-3]
220: Jacob Benedict (RH) pin Amont Hawkins (NH), 2:41. [20-3]
285: Jason Johnson (RH) pin Dylan Dopson (NH), 5:56. [26-3]
106: Michael Beck (RH) pin Mike Tobery (NH), 1:59. [32-3]
113: Taariq Mohammed (RH) dec. Duncan Yeisley (NH), 8-4. [35-3]
120: Brendan Colbert (NH) pin Michael Bishoff (RH), 3:01. [35-9]
126: Gene Velcita (NH) maj. Lee Carter (RH), 11-2. [35-13]
132: Patrick Linden (RH) dec. Coleman McHose (NH), 9-7.[38-13]
138: Diantra Landry (NH) wbf. [38-19]
145: Ryan Hartsack (NH) wbf. [38-25]
152: Aziz Mizave (NH) wbf. [38-21]