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Caleb Smith
Caleb Smith won in the 125 pound weight class by an 8-3 decision.
photo courtesy of Appalachian State Athletics

Appalachian State Wrestling Falls at Home to Ninth Ranked Virginia Tech

App State Wrestling head coach JohnMark Bentley clapped his hands and flashed an impressed smile when Will Miller briefly flipped his high-profile opponent — the one with an NCAA championship and two NCAA finals appearances to his credit — onto his back with a first-period escape.

The action was just getting good at 174 pounds, and there was plenty of it throughout a top-25 showdown between the 22nd-ranked Mountaineers and ninth-ranked Virginia Tech on Friday night.

App State won three matches, earning bonus points in two, and three other matches were decided by one point in regulation or in overtime. The Hokies finally inched ahead halfway through the dual and won 23-11 in front of 946 fans in a frenzied, packed Varsity Gym.

With wrestling starting at 149 pounds, back-to-back bonus-point victories gave App State an 8-3 lead after three matches, as No. 31 Tommy Askey won a 12-4 major decision over Clayton Ulrey at 157 pounds and No. 26 Will Formato pitched a shutout in a 12-0 major decision against Ty Finn at 165. No. 21 Caleb Smith improved to 3-0 in duals against ranked or NCAA-experienced foes from the ACC with an 8-3 decision against No. 20 Eddie Ventresca at 125 pounds.

The other three ranked showdowns went down to the wire, as No. 11 Caleb Henson rallied to win a 6-4 overtime decision against No. 8 Jon Jon Miller in the opener at 149 pounds and No. 6 Sam Latona used a Sudden Victory takedown to win a 3-1 overtime decision against No. 24 Sean Carter at 133.

The crowd erupted when Miller used an explosive takedown to put 2019 national champion and 2022 runner-up Mekhi Lewis on his back and tie their match at 5-all in the final 30 seconds. During the next stoppage with 15 seconds left, there was a video review of App State’s challenge that additional near-fall points should have been awarded to Miller, but no back points were given, and Lewis’ escape with seven seconds left gave him a 6-5 win.

After winning a matchup of top-11 wrestlers to begin the dual, Virginia Tech (6-2) erased its 8-3 deficit with a run of four straight victories that started with Lewis’ victory at 174. The Hokies closed the dual with their wins at 133 and 141.

Millner struck first against Henson with a first-period takedown and moved ahead 3-2 (with a minute-plus of riding time on his side) early in the third period. After Henson delivered a takedown with 33 seconds left, a Millner escape likely would have translated to a 5-4 victory, but Henson stayed on top to force overtime, then got a takedown 23 seconds into the Sudden Victory period to win 6-4.

Millner had won 34 straight dual matches for the Mountaineers. It was the second win this season against a returning top-six NCAA finisher for Henson, a talented true freshman.

Askey produced one first-period takedown and added two more in the second, getting one with 13 seconds left to lead 7-2 entering the third. He added two more takedowns in the final period to secure an extra team point thanks to the major decision.

Formato rode out the end of the opening two periods after recording takedowns with 51 seconds left in the first and 56 seconds left in the second. He added a third-period takedown and earned four points on a late near fall.

Smith, like Formato, maintained an unbeaten dual record this season. A second-period takedown and escape early in the third period pushed him to a 3-2 lead over Ventresca. A takedown with 1:28 left increased the lead, and Smith sealed the victory thanks to another takedown with 15 seconds remaining.

App State is back in action Sunday for a SoCon dual at The Citadel (4-0). After a Friday dual at VMI, the Mountaineer­­­s return to Varsity Gym for a Tuesday night dual against Duke on Jan. 24.

No. 9 Virginia Tech 23, No. 22 App State 11
149: #11 Caleb Henson (VT) def. #8 Jon Jon Millner (APP), 6-4 dec. (SV)
157: #31 Tommy Askey (APP) def. Clayton Ulrey (VT), 12-4 maj. dec.
165: #26 Will Formato (APP) def. Ty Finn (VT), 12-0 maj. dec.
174: #3 Mekhi Lewis (VT) def. #32 Will Miller (APP), 6-5 dec.
184: #7 Hunter Bolen (VT) def. Luke Uliano (APP), 5-1 dec.
197: #23 Andy Smith (VT) def. Carson Floyd (APP), 13-3 maj. dec.
Hwt: #23 Hunter Catka (VT) def. Mason Fiscella (APP), 12-2 maj. dec.
125: #21 Caleb Smith (APP) def. #20 Eddie Ventresca (VT), 8-3 dec.
133: #6 Sam Latona (VT) def. #24 Sean Carter (APP), 3-1 dec (SV)
141: #15 Tom Crook (VT) def. Heath Gonyer (APP), 9-4 dec.