RALEIGH — Twenty seconds.
That’s all that separated North Carolina’s Kyle Kiss from a place in the 165-pound finals of the ACC Wrestling Championships and a bid to the NCAA Tournament in Omaha.
The redshirt sophomore had out-wrestled Virginia Tech’s Matt Epperly, the 2008 tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler, throughout the contest and led 6-5 when the referee brought the pair to their feet.
Epperly lunged at Kiss’ leg, but the referee called him for a false start.
When Kiss failed to shift his feet before the restart, Epperly saw an opening and struck. The resulting single-leg takedown earned Epperly a 7-6 win.
“It’s just like, a little slip-up. I lost my focus there; it just hurts,” Kiss said. “I’ve rethought it in my head like 100 times where it would have been different.”
It was that sort of day for the Tar Heels, who finished fourth in the six-team tournament and did not produce an individual conference champion for the first time in 37 years. The result matched the Tar Heels’ fourth-place finish during the regular season.
“Pretty much everything went the way it was supposed to go today from the standpoint of how it looked on paper,” coach C.D. Mock said. “I was hoping that we would be able to put together a few upsets, but we weren’t.”
Despite finishing 40.5 points behind champions Virginia, three Tar Heels managed to secure NCAA Tournament bids.
Eighteenth-ranked Dennis Drury became the first Tar Heel to qualify by avenging a regular-season loss against No. 17 Brent Jones of Virginia with a 7-4 victory in the 197-pound semifinals.
The senior’s final ACC Tournament was ended by its Most Outstanding Wrestler, No. 3 Hudson Taylor of Maryland, who replicated his regular-season bout by again pinning Drury in the second period.
Drury led 2-0 after the first period but was unable to stay off his back after the two-time All-American gained top position in the second.
“Our goal of not getting underneath Hudson Taylor is kind of like walking into a building that’s going to be blown up and hoping you don’t get killed,” Mock said.
Drury will be joined in Omaha by teammates Ziad Haddad, who finished second at heavyweight and Thomas Scotton, who came in third at 157 pounds. While Haddad qualified by winning his first match of the day, Scotton’s NCAA bid was harder to come by.
After starting the season by winning 22 of his first 24 matches, Scotton was just one loss away from missing the NCAA’s after dry-heaving throughout a 5-0 loss to Maryland’s Kyle John.
“I definitely was scared,” Scotton said. “I hoped to God, I was like, ‘Please, man, don’t let me throw up or anything.’”
Fortunately for Scotton, his nausea subsided midway through his next match as he won his final two bouts to clinch a bronze medal and a second-straight trip to nationals.
Mock said he’s hoping the team’s new facilities, scheduled to open this August, will allow his program to catch up.
“We have a lot of work to do, and I think now we have the assets to be able to do that work.”
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Tough day for UNC wrestling at ACCs
Tar Heels produce no champs
RALEIGH — Twenty seconds.
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