CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Until 197-pound freshman Zac Bennett pummeled Maryland’s Christian Boley 10-4, North Carolina was winless in six semifinal matches at the ACC Championships. The win for Bennett matched him up with Virginia Tech’s Chris Penny for an ACC title and a trip to the NCAA championships.
The 197-pound championship was a rematch of a bout that Bennett won 9-6 in Carmichael Arena in January.
This time, with a 6-3 lead in the final two minutes, Bennett kept Penny from rolling his back to the mat and squeaked around behind Penny for the clinching reversal. With the riding time advantage Bennett took the title bout 9-5.
“I just try to stay tight in those positions, hang on the guy, keep moving if you can.” Bennett said. “You never want to start letting go or stop moving.”
Bennett’s first-place finish was the highlight of the team’s fourth place finish.
“We expected it, that’s what I expected him to do.” UNC coach C.D. Mock said about his ACC Champion. “I think anything less than that tonight, he and we would have been disappointed … As far as I’m concerned he’s legitimately the best guy in the weight class.”
Even though the rest of the Tar Heels struggled in the semifinals it didn’t seem to negatively affect them in their third-place matches.
For twenty minutes in the middle of the consolation finals, the Tar Heels dominated both mats on the floor at John Paul Jones Arena and like everything else this season for the North Carolina wrestling team it all started with Corey Mock.
The freshman 157-pounder took to the mat with a trip to the NCAA championships on the line against Virginia’s Shawn Harris in the consolation final. Mock shot and scored a take down near the edge of the mat in front of the scorer’s table but we quickly reversed and Harris nearly managed to make Mock’s shoulder graze the mat.
Later in the period, Harris held Mock by the left ankle before Mock slid around behind him for the escape and the reversal giving him a 7-2 lead that he wouldn’t relinquish.
Before Mock’s hand was raised in victory in the center of mat one, Thomas Scotton already had control of his own third place bout at 165-pounds. Down on the mat in the first period, the senior successfully pushed Virginia’s Jedd Moore’s right shoulder to the rubber scoring the full three-point near fall after the takedown. Scotton lead 5-1 after the first period.
“That is my number one move from the high crotch and I never hit it, I only hit it in practice,” Scotton said. “I knew then, I was like this is from God, because I never turn anybody.”
Both Scotton and Mock were waiting for the clock to run out on their opponents and we’re warned about stalling but they leads the two of them had built were too much for the Cavaliers to overcome.
When Mock’s match came to an end, it was redshirt junior Thomas Ferguson’s turn to take control of the circle. Ferguson was matched up with Virginia Tech’s Matt Epperly, a two-time ACC champion, in the 174-pound third-place match.
Ferguson put the nail in the coffin with an emphatic takedown with just less than a minute left in the bout. The score was 3-2 when Ferguson snatched Epperly between the legs, lifting him off his feet and pounding him to the mat. The ensuing near fall gave Ferguson the 8-2 lead, with the point for riding time Ferguson won the match 9-2.
Freshman Pat Owens and fifth year senior Nick Stabile both fell in the consolation finals taking fourth place.
Bennett and Mock were the only Tar Heels to secure bids to the national championship but coach Mock expects a few more of his wrestlers to receive at-large bids.
“I’ll be pretty disappointed if Ferguson doesn’t get a bid.” Mock said. “There’s a very good chance that Giorgio and Scotton could get bids, but we won’t know until Wednesday.”
After his third place finish Scotton described the win as bitter sweet and hopes that it won’t be his last bout as a Tar Heel.
“It’s not in my hands so you never know,” Scotton said. ”Hopefully there’s a lot of coaches that are Thomas Scotton fans.”
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