Brian Kennerly turned the clock back to Upper Darby state championship time Saturday night.
The super senior gave the Royals their first individual PIAA Class 3A state wrestling title since 2001, when he was sleeping in a crib and his coach, Bob Martin, had enough hair for a blow dry.
Kennerly wasn’t overly dominant at 220 pounds in a 3-2 win over the unheralded junior Ian Edenfield of Laurel Gardens. The taller opponent used his length to keep Kennerly away.
But with the match knotted at 1, Kennerly scored on an escape and an Edenfield stall in the second tiebreaker to complete his season with a perfect 38-0 record and a gold medal.
“I didn’t get into my takedowns at first but I just kept pushing the pace and I got to where I needed to,” Kennerly said. “It feels incredible. At the beginning of the year I wanted to go undefeated and win the state championship. And I did it. That’s all I wanted to do it this season.”
Kennerly’s night on the mats wasn’t complete until he threw Royals assistant coach Dennis Mejias to the mat.
“He did everything that was asked of him,” Mejias said, choking back emotion. “He just kept coming and coming and never said no. He earned it. He said, ‘If I win it, you’ve got to get thrown.’ I said, ‘Don’t make me look bad.’ My wife said he could as long as he doesn’t break your neck.”
Martin also was emotional.
“It’s huge, huge,” Martin said. “This is what you work for. For a kid who didn’t start wrestling until eighth grade, to come up and work and work and get better and better and better, he earned this. He earned this. He’s a state champ and no one can ever take that away from him.”
Edenfield gave it all he had. He peaked in a 6-2 win over Joe Doyle in the championship quarterfinals. That eliminated a Kennerly-Doyle rematch in the finals.
With a contingent of Upper Darby fans cheering him on, including his mother, Tracie Roberts, his grandmother Michelle Kennerly and a load of Royals boosters, there was no way the wrestler was going to lose.
“My whole family is here,” Kennerly said. “My whole family, my wrestling family. Coach Lewis (Baker), Upper Darby, brought a whole crowd here. There’s no other way I would want it.”
Title or not, Kennerly always will be a part of the Royals wrestling family. In addition to securing the first Upper Darby and first Delco championship since Joel Edwards prevailed at 189 in 2001, Kennerly completes his career with 102-23 record.
He put himself and the program on the national map with his title at 220 pounds in the prestigious Super 32 Challenge in Carolina.
Entering states, Kennerly was ranked 12th nationally at 220 pounds by Intermatwrestle.com.
The guys ranked immediately ahead of and below Kennerly — Joe Duggan of Cedar Crest and Doyle of Council Rock South — didn’t make it to the finals.
While Kennerly beat William Korber (Belle Vernon), 2-1, in the sudden victory round, his opponent penalized a point for not even attempting a takedown throughout the match, Doyle was eliminated from the championship bracket.
Doyle, who vowed to catch up with Kennerly in states, finished third, Duggan fourth.
Rankings don’t impress Kennerly, who has verbally committed to Virginia, where the average combined SAT scores of freshmen is well over 1,200.
“He’s a good student,” Martin said. “He’ll do well there.”
Princeton, by the way, was a college thought for Kennerly, as well.
Royals senior Colin Cronin, who finished third at 138 pounds, gave the school two placers at states for the first time since 2001. He’s going to miss Kennerly, who basically has been a big, little brother to him.
“I love the kid so much,” Cronin said. “He’s really improved over the years and I’m really proud of him for committing to the University of Virginia. We’re going to be apart but we’ll always keep in touch with each other and he’ll always be one of my best friends.”
In essence the states are the end of an era for Martin, who, in his 36th year, has never had a duo finish as high as Kennerly and Cronin in states.
Martin is 70-17 over the past four seasons largely because of Cronin and Kennerly, who helped him become the sixth-winningest active wrestling coach in the state with a record of 404-166-7.
Martin obviously will miss Kennerly and Cronin.
“And (Max) Livingston, too,” Martin said. “Those three guys are studs. We’ve got 40 people here tonight and most of them are alumni.”
And of course, Martin’s wrestlers are going to have a tough time turning the page on the Royals’ wrestling room.
“It’s something we can never let go,” Cronin said. “And something we’ll always be a part of.”