PISCATAWAY - From the gridiron, to UPS, to the mat, it has been a whirlwind for the last 16 months for Razohnn Gross.
The former Rutgers football player who was kicked off the team in September of 2015 and worked at UPS unloading boxes now heavyweight wrestler for the No. 11-ranked (USA Today/NWCA Coaches Poll) Scarlet Knights wrestling team sent 2,552 fans into a frenzy Friday night at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
With the Scarlet Knights trailing No. 12 Illinois 17-16 heading into the final bout of the night, it was all up to the junior to give Rutgers the win. The Franklin Park, N.J. native earned a 3-2 decision over Duece Rachal of the Fighting Illini to give Rutgers a win in the Big Ten battle in the first dual meet at the RAC this winter.
Gross picked up a point from an escape in the second period to go up 1-0, but Rachal did the same in the third to tie it up at 1-1. At the very beginning of the match, Gross nearly took down Rachel with a single-leg takedown, but it went uncalled. But, with 22 seconds remaining in the third period, Gross pulled it off to go up 3-1. Rachal escaped to make it 3-2 with 15 seconds left but Gross held off the redshirt sophomore and Chicago native for the victory. Illinois was without their top heavyweight, No. 17 Brooks Black, due to concussion symptoms.
“It was really emotional. I knew my team needed me,” Gross told TAPinto South Plainfield and the rest of the media after the match. “I just love these guys. I’m so happy they accepted me into the program. It was a great match. I’m used to being in that position. Back in the Don Bosco (Prep) days, I was 195, heavyweight, it usually came down to me. I’m used to moments like that.
“(The victory and moment) didn’t settle in until I saw my mother and I started crying and she’s like, ‘Stop crying, everybody is going to see you cry.’ It was very emotional. At the end of the match I told all my teammates I loved them and was thankful for them.”
Rutgers got the match going with a win to go up 3-0 at 125 pounds as freshman Brandon Paetzell won 3-2 over Travis Piotrowski on a takedown just before the buzzer.
But, 133-pounder and No. 4 Zane Richards topped South Plainfield native Scott DelVecchio 9-7 to even up the score at 3-3. DelVecchio notched an early surprising takedown and the score was knotted at 5-5 heading into the third period, but Richards was too much as he broke out for an escape right off the bat, another takedown, and had riding time advantage for an extra point. DelVecchio managed a reversal for two points with 11 ticks left, but it was too little too late.
However, Tiger and Tiger went back-to-back as Anthony Ashnault picked up his old high school teammate with a major decision against Mousa Jodeh triumph at 141 pounds. Ashnault, the No. 6-ranked reigning Big Ten champion and two-time All-American blew away Jodeh 10-0 racking up two takedowns and a near-fall along the way.
Ashnault was praised by head coach Scott Goodale for his toughness by taking care of business and putting the Scarlet Knights up 7-3 at the time even after not practicing for 48 hours (Ashnault said one day) due to an illness.
“You know what I like Ashnault, it’s his toughness nobody knows about,” Goodale said when asked by TAPinto South Plainfield. “He hasn’t practiced with us for 48 hours. He’s had the flu and things like that and when you get the flu you get wiped out. And with the way he trains he’s able to (still wrestle hard). It was a lot of rest and a lot of fluids and trying to make weight.
“I knew the effort we were going to get from him, but he went through a lot these last 48 hours and probably just now getting over it. A lot guys won’t wrestle when they feel that way but he did so good for him and he did what he had to do.”
Illinois’ Eric Barone beat Anthony Giraldo in the next bout at 149 pounds 5-3 for a decision to cut it to 7-6, but Rutgers’ 157-pound redshirt sophomore John Van Brill pinned Kyle Langenderfer with 14 seconds left in the second period after the Mullica Hill native was down 7-0. Van Brill infused energy into the RAC going into intermission as he put his hands by ears looking for more noise from the crowd.
The Illini came right back and scored five big points as two-time national champion and No. 1 at 165 pounds Isaiah Martinez won 24-8 over Willie Scott to cut it to 13-11. Illinois won again at 174 and 184 pounds with two decisions as No. 12 Zac Brunson bested Phil Bakuckas, 3-1, and No. 14 Emery Parker got the best of No. 11 Nicholas Gravina, 8-6, to go up 17-13.
At 197 pounds, Rutgers freshman Matthew Correnti gave his team just what he needed, as the Delran native hung on to beat Andre Lee, 16-12, after Correnti was ahead 11-3 after the first period. His victory set up the thrilling finish.
“What a story, right? What a story. First dual meet at the RAC and it comes down to him,” Goodale said of Gross. “Good for him.”
Next up, Illinois goes to Maryland on Sunday and Rutgers travels to No. 4 Ohio State.
“Our focus is going to be to wrestle hard and try to pick off some of those guys and wrestle better with more poise in certain spots,” Goodale said. “It’s a tough matchup, but that’s what this conference is all about, so we need to be ready.”