SANBORN — Before the first whistle, Muntathar Abbas felt in his gut that he had to do his job.
The junior was one of many Niagara Wheatfield grapplers who experienced heartache against Starpoint in the Section VI Division I duals championship in Lancaster one year ago. While the Falcons did advance to states as a wild-card, they wanted a championship.
The No. 1 seed in Division I, Niagara Wheatfield beat Grand Island by 48 points in the semifinal, setting up a matchup with Williamsville North/East, which advanced to the final with two wins by nine points.
But Abbas’ pin against Jonathan Hans in the second period at the 124-pound final was the first of four consecutive takedowns for the Falcons and led to the 48-18 victory over the Spartans Saturday at Niagara County Community College. The program’s third sectional title in seven years, the Falcons will now return to the state duals championship Jan. 27 at SRC Arena in Syracuse.
“Me winning, it was a good thing, but me getting that pin was a bonus,” Abbas said. “I had to get him. I had to pin him right there. That was the only time I had to leave it all on the mat. … I couldn’t shoot on him, so, I had to throw him. That was one of the biggest throws I got there. And then, boom, I knew I killed him right there. Mentally, I had him down.”
Following Abbas’ pin, the Falcons gained three more from fellow veterans Evan Azbell (131), Garrett Chase (138) and Chase Richards (145). And after back-to-back forfeits at 152 and 160, a 4-3 decision from Joe Cicco over Williamsville North/East’s Hussein Zenki and a 9-3 decision by Iain O’Donnell at 190 gave the Falcons a 30-point lead before the Spartans won three of the last four matches.
Going into the final, Niagara Wheatfield head coach Rick Sweney was aware of the amount of talent their opponent had, including Cam Catrabone, who won his 200th career match despite forfeiting at 152. But after going through multiple tournaments, including Oswego one week ago, combined with the experience against the Spartans one year ago, Sweeney said the approach was different, especially with the new rule from the state limiting wrestlers to lose only 1 ½ pounds a week, limiting where wrestlers can place between team and individual scenarios.
“We plan on winning those but not (by) pins, so, those pins were huge for us,” Sweeney said. “Once you get that momentum, you can keep riding on that. … It’s really catching the right kids in the right places. And we were able to do that on top of having good kids just walking over some of the easier kids and pinning them up.”
Meanwhile, Newfane’s attempt to win a second Division II championship in a three-year span was denied. The Panthers placed third overall with a 37-29 victory over Gowanda, after being eliminated by Southwestern in semifinal action, 39-30, and taking down rival Wilson in the consolation semifinal, 60-18. Southwestern then lost to the reining champion, Chautaqua Lake, in the final, 42-19.
Trailing 23-18 against Gowanda, the Panthers won all four of their final bouts to place third, with Khalal Golden and Jakob Lucinski recording pins at 285 and 108, respectively. Lucinski won both matches, as did juniors Aidan Gillings (145) and Ayden Buttery (152).
During the consolation semifinal match, Wilson senior Jacob Stephenson recorded his 100th career win with a pin at 160 over Newfane’s Cam Perry. Stephenson is the fifth wrestler in program history to reach the milestone and the second this season, joining Hamza Merrick.
Grand Island, North Tonawanda and Niagara Falls also competed in the Division I bracket as part of the six teams representing the greater Niagara region in the duals.
After knocking off the Lumberjacks with a 32-27 victory in the opening round and then being eliminated by the Falcons, the Vikings finished their day with a 40-24 loss to Amherst in the consolation semifinal. Dylan Castiglia won all three of his matches to lead the Vikings at 131.
The Lumberjacks, meanwhile, ended in the consolation semifinal to Clarence, 37-29. After appearing at states one year ago, Dylan Gagnon ended his day with an 18-5 decision over Clayton Feltz at 170.
Niagara Falls, meanwhile, lost to Williamsville North/East in the opening round, 35-28, and then to Amherst in the wrestle-back, 46-21. Cam Crumpler won both matches to lead the Wolverines at 108.
Clarence then defeated Amherst in the third place match, 36-27.