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Bennett has some unfinished business

Dylan Bennett has been preparing to wrestle Line Mountain’s Jacob Feese for weeks. Going back to the state dual-meet tournament, the Montoursville junior wanted to be ready for how Feese was going to try to beat him.

The last thing he needed was a repeat of the disappointing loss he took to Feese in the semifinals of last year’s Northeast Regional tournament. It was a loss which sent the then two-time District 4 champion on a course to not qualifying for the state tournament.

So step one was preparing for Feese’s Russian tie-up. Truth be told, it was probably steps one, two and three. But it’s worked.

So far, Bennett is 2-0 against Feese this season. He won their matchup in a dual-meet at the PIAA Team Wrestling Championships earlier this month and followed it up with a 5-3 win over Feese on Saturday to claim the District 4 Class AA 182-pound championship.

“Last year, he liked the Russian and I got caught in that two or three times,” said Bennett, who lost 11-6 to Feese at regionals after beating him by fall at districts last season. “So coming down to team states, I was ready for that. I wasn’t reaching and not letting him collect my wrists, and I think it helped me out.”

That he won shouldn’t have been much of a surprise. Bennett has won every match he’s wrestled this season since returning from a broken thumb he sustained during football season. He’s the top seed for this weekend’s Northeast Regional tournament, enters with a 33-0 record and is currently ranked third in the state.

But none of that matters to Bennett. He’s got some unfinished business to attend to in Hershey in a couple weeks. After qualifying for states as a freshman, he failed to get there last year, finishing a disappointing fifth at 170 pounds.

So in the last two weeks, Bennett has hammered his way to his second consecutive Central Sectional championship and his third consecutive District 4 championship. Bennett joined Rex Lutz, Rennie Rodarmel, Luke Frey and Garrett and Gavin Hoffman as the only three-time District 4 champions in school history. And only Frey has ever won four for the Warriors.

“After the way I ended last season, it left a bad taste in my mouth and it motivated me all year,” Bennett said. “I’m not (back to states) yet, but I’m one step closer to being back where I want to be, which is Hershey.”

Bennett’s postseason thus far hasn’t been all that eventful. He’s 6-0 with five wins by fall. All five of those falls have come in the first period. And three of them came in the first minute. The only real sweat he’s had was his 5-3 win over Feese in the 182 final Saturday.

But even as that match was scoreless through two periods, it never felt like Bennett was out of control. He was a hammer on top in the second period and rode out the full two minutes on top to keep the bout scoreless. He needed just 30 seconds to get a reversal in the third period and then tacked on two near-fall points to take a 4-0 lead.

On the mat is where Bennett feels like he can really do his damage. Of his 33 bouts this year, 27 haven’t been forfeits. And of those 27 contested bouts, he’s ended 19 of them with a fall. Bennett’s not a big feet-to-back move kind of wrestler, but he’ll grind on his opponents on top and eventually break them when needed.

“I think a lot of kid get flustered if they’re on their feet and they don’t get that first takedown or they get taken down,” Bennett said. “But I’m confident that if I don’t score on my feet in the first period, I can come back and keep pushing my lead on the mat.”

While Bennett nailed down his third district title Saturday, a pair of his Montoursville teammates earned their first. It’s hard to believe senior Cameron Wood didn’t yet have a district title to his name. A returning state fourth-place finisher, who has more than 130 career wins, Wood has been stymied in each of his three previous trips to districts, including last year when he gave up an overtime takedown to Lewisburg’s Dakotah Snyder in the final.

Even Saturday’s final didn’t start out advantageously. Wood gave up the initial takedown to Southern Columbia’s Max Tillet within the first 30 seconds when he shot in on a single leg on the edge of the mat and finished for a 2-0 lead. Wood was forced to play catch-up in the 220-pound final, but he eventually did.

Wood took the lead with his first takedown of the third period. And even though he gave up a tying escape with 20 seconds to go, he immediately got back on on a single-leg and finished with 15 seconds to go for a 6-4 win over Tillet.

“It feels good because I wanted to try to get one of these before I was done here,” Wood said. “But that was not the start I was looking for that match. I don’t think I ever got to my offense. I think I was letting him dictate the whole match. It was a good match, but I got to go back to work this week and work on getting better.”

For 170-pounder Cael Crebs, it was about adjusting from his first matchup with Southern Columbia’s Cade Linn this season to earn his first district title. In that first bout at the District 4 Duals, Crebs dominated every facet and was leading 9-2 before Linn defaulted.

Saturday he had to deal with a version of Linn who had figured out how to shut down Crebs’ offense. The two battled on their feet for nearly the full first two minutes. With under 15 seconds to go, Linn shot and Crebs stonewalled him before firing off a re-shot to a single leg. Crebs patiently worked for the right position and tripped Linn to the mat, wrapping up both legs as time expired for a takedown and a 2-0 lead after one period.

From there, Crebs went to work on top. He rode out all two minutes on top in the second period. He tacked on three more points in the third period for a 5-0 win and his first district title.

“That first takedown gives you some wiggle room,” Crebs said. “It makes the other guy get down on himself. Giving up points is never good, but giving up points at the end of the period is worse and it kind of set a tone.”

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