HERSHEY — It looked like something you’d see on WWE Smackdown, minus the chairs being thrown around, of course.
In a move John Crawford would describe as “funky,” the senior 160-pounder grabbed the outstretched legs of his opponent, twisted them this way and that, and while the crowd roared with just 23 seconds left in the quarterfinal Friday, recorded an historic pin for Strath Haven.
The victory guarantees the Panthers their first medal in the PIAA Class 3A tournament, which will conclude Saturday. Crawford has already guaranteed it to be a memorable moment for him and the Panthers.
“It feels great,” Crawford said. “I’m not done yet, but I’m on the podium. That was the goal all along. I’ve just got to keep working. I’m looking to be on the top.”
After the bout Crawford needed about two hops to vault 20 rows into the seats, where he shared the moment with his father, John, and mother, Katie.
With Sun Valley’s Hunter Catka, the defending state champ at 220 pounds, awaiting his quarterfinal, and Garnet Valley pin machine Coltin Deery eyeing his next victim, it looked like a record-setting weekend for Delco wrestlers.
But Catka was upset, 3-1, by Dorian Crosby of Erie Cathedral Prep in a physical quarterfinal bout stopped twice due to injuries and bleeding.
Gone, too, was the Big Cat’s bid to become the first Delco grappler to win multiple golds at states.
“I’m not going to dwell on it because I’ve got another match,” Catka said. “I’m just going to keep my head up and keep going.”
Catka prevailed in his consolation bout, rolling to a 15-3 decision over Dillon Feretti (Hempfield Area), who was wondering what he’d done to tick off the champ. The Vanguards junior can still finish third.
“It’s a bump in the road and Hunter’s mentality is he’s going to keep moving forward,” coach Tom Ellis said. “He had the leg, the other kid was going out of bounds and if Hunter had gotten that take-down he would have won it, 3-2. But we knew it was going to be an uphill battle with his leg.”
Catka’s left leg locked up in the match. And no, it wasn’t the one that needed major repairs. He missed much of this season after fracturing his right leg.
Catka and Crosby were tied, 1-1, entering the final frame.
One minute into the third period, Catka’s leg gave him trouble again, and his nose was bloody. The second injury timeout gave Crosby the choice of up or down, and he chose the bottom. Instead of riding his opponent to reach overtime, Catka made the tactical decision to let him escape.
Catka was close to landing the takedown to take the lead but Crosby hopped outside the circle, and with three seconds left, all Catka could do was get off the whistle fast for a takedown. He was penalized a point for his third caution.
Crosby (45-5) was a worthy opponent, having finished fifth in the states at 195 pounds last year. What he lacked in technique, he made up for with heart and savvy.
Crawford, like Catka, also got off to a slow start, although that’s nothing new for the senior who won his 90th career bout.
Crawford fell behind, 2-0, and trailed 3-1 entering the third period. He then cornered Connor Herceg of Nazareth, who looked like a fish trying to escape, flailing this way and that.
Crawford worked both of Herceg’s outstretched legs, forcing him flat on his back while the referee slapped the mat.
“We just got into a scramble and I’ve worked that a lot, I’ve done it in practice all the time,” Crawford said. “I knew just to drop my hips there and I knew I had the two (points). And he was just on his back long enough for me to get the pin. I don’t even know what I’d call it. Just some funk. He was scrambling and I just caught him. I got him stuck on his back, and he just got caught flat.”
Panthers coach Anthony Gilliano sprinted into the stands to be with Crawford, all of them surrounded by fans.
Gilliano smiled when it was suggested Crawford was the king of comebacks.
“I was messing with him earlier,” Gilliano said while stroking the beard on his chin. “I said ‘these gray hairs, they’re all from you. You’re aging me.’ He loves to give up the first takedown. He gave up the first takedown at regionals, came back and won that. Gave up the first takedown last night and came back and won that. Gave up the first takedown today. He’s never out of it. That’s part of his mindset.”
Crawford is in a tough yet manageable bracket. On Saturday he opposes junior Clayton Ulrey (38-1) of Lower Dauphin, who finished fifth in the states at 152 last year.
In the bottom of the bracket the favorite is Luca Frinzi (Bethlehem Catholic), who was seventh at 152 last year.
“This is really cool,” Crawford said. “It’s been my goal since offseason, since the end of last year. I wanted to be on the podium since I lost my second match at states last year. And it just feels so good to know all the hard work I put in has paid off.”
From District 1 qualifier to Strath Haven’s first regional champion to reaching the state podium, it’s been quite a ride for Crawford.
“He’s worked hard for it and it’s not unexpected,” Gilliano said. “We knew he could wrestle with anybody. I’m happy because the four years he’s put into it he’s worked his butt off and it really shows. He’s funky flexible. He gets himself in good positions and makes the most of it, as you can see.”
Funky flexible with funky moves, Crawford is funky to watch. Ask the fans who saw him Friday.
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