On paper, Friday night's North Suburban Conference dual meet between host Stevenson and Warren was expected to be a pretty close one.
And on the scoreboard as well, this annual showdown proved to be a very close one as the Patriots pulled out a thriller, 31-30. The NSC Lake matchup came down to the final match.
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Starting at 120 pounds, Stevenson (5-3, 3-0) took a quick 6-0 advantage as sophomore Evan Rodriguez pinned his opponent in 3:38.
The Blue Devils (3-2, 1-1) cut the lead to 6-3 when 126-pounder Jakob Martinez pulled out an 8-5 decision against Stevenson's Jeremy Nilsen.
A forfeit victory by Stevenson's Jared Bukowski at 132 boosted the lead to 12-3. But Warren's Brandon Murphy edged 138-pound Stevenson freshman Ben Ponto, 2-0 to keep the Blue Devils within striking distance at 12-6.
The meet continued to go back and forth early on as Stevenson's Connor Brady posted a 7-2 decision over sophomore Malcolm Wright at 145 to make the score 15-6.
Then 152-pounder Quinn Nonnemacher won a 10-4 decision over Stevenson freshman Robert Pavlovics to cut the gap to 15-9.
With momentum hard to come by, Stevenson 160-pound junior Juwon Anderson posted a 13-4 major decision over freshman Andrew Demos to give the Patriots a 19-9 cushion.
But the Blue Devils once again responded well as senior Emery Parker moved up to 170 to capture an 11-4 decision over Tyler Harrington.
The Pats got a big win at 182 as Zach Horwitz outlasted Rakheem Chapman, 3-2 to give Stevenson its biggest lead at 22-12.
Warren's late comeback started when 195-pounder Bryan Nolan pinned his opponent in just 42 seconds.
A forfeit victory by 220-pounder Jake McConn gave the Blue Devils their first lead at 24-22 before 285-pound teammate Sawyer McCaffery's pin in 2:44 extended Warren's lead to 30-22 with two bouts left.
A forfeit win by Stevenson 106-pounder Alec Nolan cut the lead to 30-28, setting the stage for a winner-take-all match at 113 between Stevenson freshman Eric Carter and Warren junior Charlie Nudelman.
Trailing 3-2, Carter forced a 3-3 deadlock after two periods. Then with 41 seconds left in the third period, Carter got a reversal to take a 5-3 lead and he was able to hold off a late burst of energy by Nudelman for a 5-3 decision and an exciting 31-30 Patriots' victory.
"I think me and my freshmen teammates have worked so hard in practice to get to this point and I knew I had to have toughness on top," said Carter, who is one of three freshman starters for the Pats. "We're not going to stop working, and I think it showed on the mat tonight."
Warren coach Jim Ouimette was disappointed with the loss for his young squad. But he was more than happy with their effort and overall performance in the meet.
"We're both trying to put the pieces together with a young team and we just don't have the varsity experience so it's going to be a learning year," said Ouimette, who was missing two starters. "I feel like we left some points out there, I'm sure (Stevenson coach) Shane (Cook) would say the same thing. To lose by one point was tough and it's just the little bonus points you give up that make a big difference in a meet this close."
Cook was ecstatic with the narrow win and the poise many of his wrestler's showed.
"For Eric Carter, a freshman, to come out knowing the dual meet was on the line and to come through with a win against a quality kid was great," said Cook, whose team is at the rugged Wheeling tournament Saturday. "We had some guys really come through with some huge wins for us and those were huge wins for Connor Brady and Zach Horwitz."
The Blue Devils will also be busy Saturday as they head to Vernon Hills for a triple-dual meet along with Palatine and Highland Park