Know what the saddest part of Nazareth’s 30-29 defeat of Bethlehem Catholic in Saturday’s PIAA 3A team wrestling championship is?

We’ll never see a better dual meet.

Anywhere, anytime, anyhow.

Oh, we’ll still see classics and thrillers and close ones, but what happened at the Giant Center in Hershey Saturday afternoon was all of those and a whole lot more.

What the Blue Eagles and Golden Hawks did Saturday will be talked about for years. Strategy will be reviewed for years. Performances will be glorified for years. Officiating will be debated for years (especially by those in brown and gold).

It will become a legend – the day two District 11 teams showed the rest of the state (country?) just what Lehigh Valley wrestling is made of, just why we think it’s the best wrestling anywhere, and why there’s nothing in wrestling like a bitterly fierce local rivalry dual-meet.

The story line was compelling – two nationally-ranked, elite teams from schools 15 miles apart, bursting at the seams with mind-blowing talent (six Division I commits wrestling and many more who will be when their time comes; not many states can say that), and having split two earlier matches this season.

The action sizzled – every bout turned crucial, every point mattered, fans held their breath at every whistle.

And intrigue swirled over lineups, coin flips (which was absolutely critical for Nazareth), returning wrestlers from limbo, matchups, who weighs in where, and more.

At some point – maybe around Becahi’s lightning pin pair at 132 and 138 by junior Jarred Papcsy (who is a Nazareth area resident and don’t think that didn’t light some fires on both sides) and senior Luke Carty who pinned all of 12 seconds  – it became clear that this wasn’t just any old really good dual meet.

It was a defining event for the wrestling of our time.

Any other good dual for high stakes will be compared to “Nazareth 30, Bethlehem Catholic 29 (tied at 29, Decided by Criterion D, Most Matches Won)” and probably found wanting.

And no wonder.

Never has former Easton coach Steve Powell’s maxim that “town v. town” duals make for wrestling’s prime attraction been more relevant. Sure, Becahi isn’t a “town”, strictly speaking, but it might as well be for these purposes. Nazareth could have won its second state duals title in exactly the same fashion over Kiski Area, say, or Erie Cathedral Prep, and while it still would have been thrilling it wouldn’t have conjured up the magic Becahi as an opponent did.

Normally around this point in a piece like this the turning points are mentioned, the top performers rattled off, and their impact discussed.

But how can you do that when every point mattered?

It didn’t seem like a big deal when Nazareth junior Cade Wilson avoided being pinned when he lost a 28-13 technical fall to Bethlehem Catholic’s all-world (well, almost) senior Mikey Labriola in the opening bout at 182 pounds.

But then you look at 29-29 and Wilson’s point saved meant that Blue Eagle junior Zac Keifer, in the final bout at 170, wrestling amid a maelstrom of emotion, just needed a regular decision against Becahi freshman Tavion Banks. He didn’t need to take chances, chances Banks could have exploited in his favor, to win by a major or more. Against a wrestler of Banks’ skill and athleticism that may well not have been possible.

Thus did one point save a state title.

Becahi executed a similar save at 106 where sophomore Dillon Murphy, who’d been tech-falled by Nazareth’s super-frosh Andrew Cerniglia in the District 11 final, held Cerniglia to a 7-0 decision, one shy of a major. Had the Golden Hawks won, Murphy’s one-point save would have been celebrated.

There were such crucial moments in almost every bout, almost every period of every bout.

But maybe the very best moment of all came after the match.

It’s no secret there’s no love lost between Bethlehem Catholic and, well, almost any area team. Becahi cheekily embraces the fans’ disdain with its “We’re THAT team” T-shirts It’s no secret plenty of Nazareth fans despise the Golden Hawks for any number of reasons and there’s a certain reciprocity to the disdain.  It’s no secret passion were running high Saturday and the aftermath of the match could have gotten ugly, as recent events have shown. One or two minor moments excepted, it did not.

Instead, the aftermath proved inspiring when Labriola, senior Ryan Zeiner, and other Becahi wrestlers came over to Nazareth wrestlers such as Keifer and offered heartfelt personal congratulations, which were warmly and graciously received.

You’ll never see sportsmanship and class summed up better. You’ll never see a better ending to a bitter rivalry clash. You’ll never see an example of what teenagers can teach adults about behavior and conduct.

And you’ll never see a better dual meet, ever. Thanks, Nazareth. Thanks, Bethlehem Catholic. We’ll never forget.

Brad Wilson may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.












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