MONTVILLE, NJ - The Montville wrestling team knew going into Tuesday night's match against state-ranked Pope John that it could very well be one bout here or there that could turn the tide in either direction.

While Pope John is ranked No. 16 in the state by NJ.com, Montville had put together a solid resume of its own to this point with a 10-1 record in duals, and was coming off a win against a solid Rumson-Fair Haven squad on Saturday.

In the end, Montville hung tough against Pope John, but could not grab the bonus points that it needed as it dropped a tough, 31-27 loss at Montville Township High School.

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“I think our guys wrestled tough tonight," Montville coach John Krip said. "It’s tough when you’re going up against a team like that. They have good, solid kids in each weight class, and it really comes down to getting some bonus points when you can, and not giving up bonus points. We fell a little short tonight.”

Montville certainly had its share of bright spots, as it won six of the 14 bouts, and found itself in position to potentially win if it swept the remaining two bouts, even after forfeiting at 126 to defending state champion Eddie Ventresca, which gave Pope John a 28-21 lead.

But Justin Ciliotta, despite his best efforts late, ended up dropping a 5-3 decision to Collin Neal in the 132 bout, which clinched the win for Pope John prior to the 138 bout, which saw Montville's Derek Giordano land a pin in 3:22.

Another bout which swung the match came at 152, when Brandon Teresa, who recently celebrated his 100th career victory and came into the match at 14-2, lost via major decision, 10-3 to Pope John's Mathew Garcia.

“A couple of matches I thought we would get bonus points and we didn’t," Krip said. "A match here or there that I thought we would win, and we didn’t. That was really the difference.”

Montville earned pins from Aaron Kurzer (113) and Noah Fox (170), while Aiyan Ahmed (106) and Michael Marucci (220) each won via decision. Michael Conrad earned perhaps the most dramatic win of the night for the Mustangs at 182, when he earned two points in the final minute to rally from a one-point deficit to take a 4-3 win over Jack Stoll.

Overall, despite the loss, Montville finds itself in good position as it prepares for this weekend's Morris County Tournament, as well as the upcoming state sectional tournament. With the cutoff just one week away, Montville currently holds the top spot in North 1, Group 3, and will look to maintain that to earn the top seed for the second straight year.

Wrestling in its home gym in the state tournament proved to be a huge advantage during the Mustangs' sectional title run in 2019, and it hopes to have that same opportunity once again in just under two weeks.

“I think we’re kind of right where we want to be," Krip said. "Being in the one spot and having home field advantage I think is a big thing for us. It was last year when we were in this section. I think rolling into the section and knowing that we wrestled the No. 2 already and have a good feel for them, I think we’re in a good spot.”

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