In this edition of “When Sports Were Played,” we go back to Feb. 4, 1986 for a dual meet held at a neutral site – a larger venue because of the demand for tickets – and provided long-waited redemption for the wrestling fans at Trinity.

The seconds peeled off the clock in a painfully slow fashion, wiping away five years of frustration and dropping what was thought to be an invincible opponent to its knees.

Trinity High School’s wrestling team, shadowed for those five seasons by arch-rival Canon-McMillan and frustrated to the point of delirium, has broken those restraints, defeating the Big Macs, 24-20, Tuesday evening in a Section 7-AAA match held before a standing-room-only crowd of about 3,000 at Washington & Jefferson College’s Henry Memorial Center.

The Hillers’ win, besides dropping a ton of pressure from the shoulders of head coach John Abajace, snapped a 28-match win streak by Canon-McMillan and firmly entrenched Trinity into the section lead with a 6-0 mark. Canon-McMillan, the top-ranked Class AAA team in the O-R Wrestling Coaches Poll, fell to 6-1.

This was the first time the Hillers had downed a Dave Cook-coached Canon-McMillan team, suffering through an 0-5-1 stretch that ate at the very fiber of Trinity’s program.

“The pressure I had was self-imposed pressure,” said Abajace. “I never had a problem with the administration. Any problems I had never had to do with our won-loss record. We have some staunch Trinity fans and if they want to complain, they can complain. I appreciate what they’ve done for us and the one thing I can say is that no Trinity wrestler ever laid down.”

If Abajace was unaffected by the fan pressure, some of the wrestlers were.

“Sure, it bothered me. All I wanted to do was whip them; that was all I had on my mind,” said Trinity heavyweight Brian Hilk, whose 7-3 decision over Olen Scott sent the Hiller contingent of fans into a jubilant celebration that carried into the streets of Washington. “All of us dropped a weight class and the team sacrificed. That’s what did it.“

The sacrifices came in many forms. At 167 pounds, with Trinity holding a slim 18-17 lead, the Hillers’ Dan Lobozzo came within inches of being turned for backpoints in the final seconds but held on for a 7-5 upset of Chuck Stevenson.

It also came in a 6-4 loss by Damon Alexas to C-M’s Jared Imperatore at 98 pounds, a weight class Abajace wanted to use Jim Vore at but the Hiller sophomore failed to make weight.

“A few of them hurt,” said Cook. “I don’t think any one individual match decided this. The Trinity kids did a super job and you can’t take it away from them.”

Imperatore’s decision and Ron Rothka’s 15-0 technical fall over Bill Boardley at 105 gave the Big Macs an 8-0 lead before Trinity’s Mike Ferrari (112) and Bob Truby (119), with a decision and technical fall, respectively, tied it.

“In school, everyone kept asking me who I was going to wrestle,” said Ferrari, a senior who faced Jerry Wagner. “After the first two matches, when we lost, I was just trying to get some points on the board for us.”

“This was the largest crowd I ever wrestled in front of,” said Truby, a two-time state champion from Maryland who transferred to Trinity this season. “It really psyched me up.”

But nothing came easy. Lobozzo’s upset win followed a surprising loss by Trinity’s Bill Edgar to Dave DiCio, 9-7. That setback came on the heels of a 3-1 upset by the Hillers’ Rick West over Mike Toplisek at 145 pounds.

“We felt we could’ve won a couple through the middle,” said Cook. “But they outwrestled us. There’s no looking back now. We got to go out and wrestle tomorrow and it’s not the end of the world for us.”

Canon-McMillan‘s Tim Rothka broke a 9-9 tie with a 15-1 superior decision over Chris Petronka but any momentum C-M had at that point was dashed when Aaron Roberts captured a stunning 8-1 decision over David Warchol.

Tom Wright’s 9-5 decision over the Big Macs’ Daryl Price at 138 gave Trinity it’s first lead of the match, 15-14. The Hillers went on to win three out of the next five weight classes to clinch the win.

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