OTTAWA — It was one of those nights that could've gone either way between two accomplished and proud wrestling programs.
But in the end, the Ottawa Pirates' late-contest rally and slim lead just couldn't forestall a winner-take-all final match that went to the Geneseo Maple Leafs with an intense, 35-31 victory during the season-opening Northern Illinois Big 12 West Conference hookup between the pair of league powers Thursday evening here at Love Gym.
Ottawa (8-2) trailed 27-16 after the first eight of 14 matches before the Pirates' lower-weight contingent rallied with four wins through the next five individual battles to take a 31-29 lead with only one match left to contest.
But Geneseo (5-1) sealed the victory when sophomore Clay DeBaillie pinned Pirates senior Bryce Burress at 3:39 of the second period of the 138-pound matchup, as both teams battled tooth-and-nail until the end with each club registering seven victories.
"We came in knowing that Geneseo had a very good team this year, being ranked 15th in Class 2A coming into the season, so we knew it was going to be a tough go for an unranked team like us," said OHS coach Pete Marx. "But our kids came out and competed like champions despite forfeiting a weight class. They did everything we asked them to do.
"I know we came up a little short in the score, but boy was this ever a great dual meet where we really put them to the test down the stretch."
GHS coach Jon Murray concurred.
"We knew our final guy (DeBaillie) could produce an outcome like that when things were on the line, and I'm very happy for him," Murray said. "But what a great match between two very solid wrestling programs that was really in doubt until the end. I'm very proud of our guys for earning a hard-fought victory tonight."
The Leafs captured five of the first eight matches, although the Pirates did register three triumphs, the first at 160 pounds when senior Nic Stehl pinned Geneseo junior Kane Miller at 1:03. Ottawa's freshman standout Cedric Fairrow quickly followed at 170 with a 10-2 major decision over Leafs junior William McKelvain before Pirate senior Kaedon Cronkright pinned sophomore Garrett Toom at 3:48 of the 220-pound class that cut Geneseo's lead to 21-16.
But at 285, Billy Blaser — the Leafs' No. 2-ranked senior by IllinoisMatmen.com — dispatched Ottawa senior Jaxson Callahan with a pin at 2:16 to put Geneseo up by 11 markers with six matches to go.
That’s when the Pirate resurgence started.
Junior Austin Howard won a 6-3 decision over Geneseo freshman Carson Raya at 106 pounds. Ottawa junior Riley Hanson followed next with a pinning of freshman Anthony Montez at 4:36 of the second period to chalk up a win at 113, making the score 27-25 in favor of the visitors.
"I knew their kid was a pretty good freshman," Hanson said. "So I thought I had to come out strong and help us continue a rally toward getting a team win tonight."
After Geneseo won at 120 which put it up 30-25, Ottawa's No. 4-ranked junior Luke Fleming outlasted Leafs junior Luke Henkhaus at 126 during a marathon match where Fleming won a 5-4 decision after 2:30 of grueling overtime minutes, where Fleming prevailed on a sudden victory in the fifth and final extra session after a 30-second ride out.
"I was ready to go in the third period, and then it went to a bunch of overtimes," Fleming said. "It was a hard-fought win for sure, and I was happy to escape with a big win."
Senior Bradley Ruger then gave the Pirates a 31-29 advantage after a 9-5 comeback decision at 132 over sophomore Bruce Moore after Ruger trailed 5-0 late in the second period.
"I knew I was losing badly in the second, so I went to my cradle to help get me back on track," Ruger said. "Then in the last period I just went all out and was able to get a few points that gave us the lead."
But Geneseo secured the final match and dashed the Pirates' ideas of a comeback win.
"You never like losing, but this was a good dual, and it was nice to see something like this," Marx said. "It was the first time our kids were involved in a big back-and-forth match this year, and it was pretty exciting for both teams. We'll certainly learn a lot from this, in a good way, moving ahead into the season."