Recommended Video:

Against all odds, the Foran High wrestling team challenged for its second straight Class M title before losing out to Ellis Tech this past weekend.

“This was a different type of season, but still very special,” Foran coach Dave Esposito said. “Last year (when Foran won the program’s first state title) was a perfect season, everything went perfect. This year it seemed like everything went wrong.

“Meets were canceled, we had to take a week off (skin infection) and we lost our heart and soul (returning state champion Gino Esposito) not once, but twice. He came back from knee surgery, then got mono and couldn’t go to school, let alone wrestle. It was a one, two punch.”

So how did the Lions put together a 25-win season and almost climb the final rung of the ladder in Class M?

“Everybody came together,” Esposito said. “Last year, we had seven guys go to State Open this year we have nine. A lot of guys have wrestled hard for us (assistant coach Noel Luth).

“That is a good Ellis Tech team over there and there is no shame finishing second to them.”

Ellis Tech of Danielson (213.5) won the team title, followed by Foran (183.5), host Guilford High (170), Platt of Meriden (158), Killingly (147), Lyman Memorial (120) and Jonathan Law (118.5).

Michael Ross was champion at 152 pounds. The senior pinned Branford’s Zachary Cash 59 seconds into the third period to earn his third consecutive state title.

The air came out of the gym a bit, when Cash, trailing 4-0 at the time, reversed Ross and put him on his back midway through the first period. Ross kept one shoulder clear and held on. Those were the first points given up by Ross all season. He took a 15-6 lead into the third period.

“I had to wrestle through it,” said Ross, who will bring a 167-12 career mark into this weekend’s State Open. “It was a good year for us as a team. We had a lot of great kids contributing. If not for Gino (Esposito) and Ryan Luth I wouldn’t be where I am as a wrestler.”

Ross advanced easily to the finals, including a 20-second pin and a 15-0 win by technical fall that took only 2:55 in his semifinal bout with Joshua Veleas from Berlin High.

“Michael, he’s caged tiger and wrestles one hundred per cent every match,” Esposito said. “Michael never stops, and does that every day. I’ve been coaching him since he was five — he’s worked and worked, matured and is a pleasure to coach.”

Ryan Luth (145 pounds) and Qasim Khan (182 pounds) placed second.

Luth, a junior was tied at 2-2 after two periods in his final with fellow unbeaten Avery Shay from New Fairfield. Shay, who was first in Class M, first in the State Open and second in New England a year ago, escaped in the third period and added a pair of takedowns to secure a 7-3 decision.

“Our team stayed strong, stayed focus all season,” said Luth, who has accrued a 147-12 record. “We have a lot of determined kids and the coaches kept us focus. My dad (Lion assistant Noel Luth) and Coach Espo both run the youth program too. Those wrestlers come up (to varsity) with the same philosophy and work ethic.”

Luth had a 42-second fall and a 13-2 major decision. He then pinned No. 3 seed Mannash Carlson from Platt in 5:26 of his semifinal.

“Ryan Luth is the most fluid wrestler you‘ll ever watch, a pure skilled wrestler, probably the best I’ve seen with technique,” Esposito said.

Qasim Khan, a junior, is another product of the Milford Indian Wrestling Club.

“My older brother wrestled, and then we (teammate sophomore Umer Khan) came out for youth wrestling,” said Qasim, who was runner-up in Class M for the second straight season. “Nervousness is there, but once on the mat I wrestle like we train.”

Khan, 33-3, fought off one cradle attempt by New Fairfield’s Will Magrino but still trailed 4-0 after one period of his final. Magrino (28-4) reversed into a winning cradle at the 3:24 mark of the second stanza.

Khan had advanced with pins of 42 and 52 seconds. He won a 7-5 decision from Jamar Mighty from Harding High in the semifinals.

“Qasim always seems to get overshadowed,” Esposito said. “He’s tough, works hard, listens, and has come into his own-gaining confidence and will be a leader on our team.”

Umer Khan placed fourth at 170 pounds, losing to Guilford’s A.J. Moscato 8-5.

Andre Vella was fourth at 220 pounds, as St. Bernard’s Alex Britto took third with a 3-1 decision.

Will Mauro took fifth place at 132 pounds with an 11-7 decision over Law’s Aisaiah Rodriguez.

Ronnie Gaul wrestling up in weight, won an 8-3 decision from Stratford’s Tristan Frownfelter to earn fifth.

Michael Giordano (106 pounds) and Colby Stuart (160 pounds) each placed sixth.