A major comeback by Conant helped stun a packed senior night crowd on Friday at Schaumburg as the Cougars stayed alive in their hunt for a Mid-Suburban West wrestling title.
The Cougars (12-0-0, 3-0-0) overcame a 24-0 deficit to come away with a heart-pounding 36-27 victory after scoring the final 30 points of the meet.
"Oh my," said Conant coach Chad Hay, whose team not only stayed even with Barrington in the divisional race but also the Fight for the Fin -- a mythical trophy concocted by Hay and his coaching counterpart (and brother-in-law), Schaumburg's Mike Levanti.
"This was easily our biggest and most important duel of the season," said Hay. "But Schaumburg really came at us, and when they put those sixes on us early to build a 24-point lead, things didn't look very good for us -- but it did really test what this team was made of."
The outcome sets up a divisional test next week as Conant visits Barrington on Friday.
Hay said he gave the Saxons (2-2-0) an unexpected advantage prior to the action when his flip of the coin to decide what weight the contest would begin at fell firmly in the favor of the home side.
"From 160 on, Mike's club is at its best," said Hay, "so when we began at 160, we knew we would be in it from the start."
Schaumburg senior Luke Gruszka was nearly flawless en route to a fall at 1:16. Sadarriss Patterson (170) followed with a pin at 4:41 to send the Saxons' faithful soaring.
Mike Bruno surprised Kevin Smith when he opened quickly at 182 and never stopped, building a 13-5 advantage before finishing off his opponent at 5:16.
With the Cougars reeling, Matt Stopka (195) made it 21-0 with a 11-7 decision before Tyler Alanis gave Schaumburg another 3 points with a 7-5 triumph.
"Z (Andrew Zerfas) was terrific in his match with Stopka, staying away from bonus points at the time and slowing them down a little bit," said Hay.
Tyler LaBarbera finally got the Cougars up and running with a thundering pin just 1:19 into his heavyweight bout to bring the score to 24-6.
"Tyler stopped the bleeding, and really gave us the momentum the team needed at the time," said Conant senior Griff Rose.
After Eric Ortiz scored the last points of the night for the Saxons with an 8-6 decision at 106, an all-out assault by Kyle Peisker, Danny Madonia, Marcus Williams and Brad Polan from 113 through 132 led to 16 unanswered Conant points. And after Bobby Alexander was awarded a forfeit at 138 points, the Cougars drew even for the first time since.
Sophomore Nick Catalano's well orchestrated pin at 4:43 pushed the Conant lead to 33-27. That set up Rose, who started and finished fast en route to a clinching victory over the Saxons' talented Tony Vezzetti.
"Tyler is the guy who always seems to rally the guys, and tonight was no different, and his big pin seemed to inspire our 'little guys' who showed a lot of composure on a very big night for us," said Hay. "We held up really well as a team when it counted, which will take us into the Leyden Invite (on Saturday) in very good shape, as well as Barrington next week."
The Cougars will look to defend their team title at Leyden, while the Saxons move on to compete at the Batavia quad Saturday morning.