PAULSBORO (N.J.) - The Paulsboro High School wrestling team was looking to capture its 42nd sectional title in program history against Gloucester.
Jordan Eli, pictured, provided Paulsboro with a spark after securing a pin at heavyweight for the Red Raiders to earn their 42nd sectional title with a 36-26 win over Gloucester at Paulsboro High School on Wednesday, February 8, 2023. Chris Baker/D2 Sports Network
The two programs faced off in last year's South Jersey Group 1 title tilt with the Red Raiders emerging with a 34-24 win.
When the dust had settled this time around, the Red Raiders came out on top again, 36-26.
Gloucester came out firing at 175 pounds with a first period pin from Kaleb Wright followed by decisions from Cody Gardzielik (190) and Bear Smith (215).
The heavyweight match was the turning point that provided Paulsboro with needed momentum. Jordan Eli (285) grabbed a pin for the Red Raiders in just 24 seconds.
Although Eli's triumph only cut the Lions' lead in half, it was the necessary spark.
The 285-pound competitor understood the task at hand and went to work.
"I know what I had to do for the team," Eli said. "I wasn't settling for anything less than a pin. I did not want to let the other team have any leash to work with."
From heavyweight to the 138-pound match, Paulsboro won by either fall, major decision or decision. Logan Sichelstiel (126) earned a pin, major decisions were won by Derrik Horton (106), Hayden Holmes (113), and Aundre Hill (120), and Kyaire Harvey (132) and Chase Bish (138) each earned decisions to cap a seven-bout win streak.
Gloucester's Jason Chiodi (144) and Jake Zearfoss (150) limited the suffering as Chiodi won, 4-3, via tie breaker and the latter of the two secured a 16-1 technical fall victory.
Roman Onorato (157) clinched the title with a second period pin for the Red Raiders, but not without controversy.
In real time, spectators thought the buzzer sounded before the official's hand was raised to signal a pin. Further replay confirmed the claim, but nonetheless Onorato was already in position to win via major decision which would've resulted in only two less points. The loss of points would not have mattered because any form of victory for Paulsboro would have sealed the deal.
For the Red Raiders, this was a message sent to South Jersey.
A surge in talent outside the perennial powerhouses is existent, but Big Red has no intention of going away anytime soon.
Paulsboro coach Paul Morina has confidence in his team for the remainder of the postseason as well as next year.
"We only lose three kids next year so I think we could possibly pick up where we leave off this year," Morina said. "Right now we're going to focus on our next assignment and get after it in practice."
Gloucester fell short in back-to-back years to Paulsboro in the sectional final, but remains optimistic about its future.
"It stings to fall short in not just one, but two consecutive finals," Gloucester coach Tom McConnell said. "But with how young our lineup is and the experience they've gained in the last season or two will eventually help us in the long run."
Paulsboro will face Kittatinny in the Group 1 state semifinals on Friday.