Hunter Mays Makes Howell History With Late Takedown To Become Rebels’ First Two-Time State Champion
ATLANTIC CITY -- Hunter Mays doesn't do much wrestling in the third period. His matches rarely make it that far. But on the biggest stage in New Jersey high school wrestling, Mays had to dig deep to get his hand raised one final time.
Down by two points in the third period of the 165-pound NJSIAA state final, Mays was able to work free for an escape point and then methodically secure the go-ahead takedown with 16 seconds left in the bout to defeat Bergen Catholic's Nick Fea, 5-4, and win the 165-pound state title.
Mays defended his state title after winning the 160-pound title last season, and with the victory becomes the first two-time state champion in program history.
"I was tired but I knew he was tired, too," Mays said. "We were both going 100 percent and we wrestle a similar style; both short and stocky and strong, both wrestle a high pace. But I knew this was my last high school match and I was going to give it everything I got, win or lose. I can live with myself losing but I can't live with myself not giving everything. So that was just all heart."
"He believes in his training and I say that to him before every match, to believe in your training," said Howell head coach John Gagliano. "Where he's been and his preparation, it showed today."
Mays started the match with a quick takedown, securing a low double-leg on the edge of the mat to go up 2-0. He quickly cut Fea loose to make it 2-1 and took that lead into the second period. Fea escaped in the second and countered a Mays shot attempt for a takedown. He then rode Mays out for the rest of the period to take a 4-2 lead into the final two minutes.
Fea rode Mays well in the third period but the Howell senior was able to get free with 1:14 left to trim Fea's lead to 4-3. From there, Mays kept pressing forward knowing Fea had a stalling warning against him.
"He had a stalling call so the worst case I was just going to keep pushing and pushing and I'm going to get a stall call or get a takedown," Mays said. "I knew I was better on my feet than him and I trusted my leg attacks. I train too hard not to win those big matches like that."
With under 30 seconds left, Mays latched onto Fea with a single-leg takedown just inside the edge of the circle. He needed to get his right arm free and around Fea's left leg to secure the two points, and he slowly got there. The two points went up with 16 seconds remaining and Mays completed the rideout off the restart, thwarting one final escape attempt by Fea to win 5-4.
"I had to be patient and didn't want to rush anything," Mays said., "I knew it was short time but I had enough time to work up slowly. I knew there was no way he could stay in there that long. I was slowly creeping and I didn't want to rush because the first time I rushed and he rolled through. I don't have a lot of patience but I needed it there."
Mays is originally from Pennsylvania and wrestled for Conwell Egan High School his first two years. He moved to Howell and took New Jersey by storm last year, going undefeated and winning the 160-pound state title. He wasn't going to be surprising anybody this year, but the result at the end was the same. He finished his senior season 40-1, and 56-1 in his two years at Howell. Safe to say he made quite the impression.
"It means so much to me," said Mays, who will wrestle collegiately at Rider University. "My high school career has been a roller coaster so all the hard work I've put into this sport ended up being worth it. I'm super happy. Howell has so much history, a lot of good guys before me that I look up to, and for me to go down in history at such a great school means so much."
"He works so hard and is so dedicated to this sport," Gagliano said. "I'm so proud that he came out with his second state title to become the first in Howell history."