BERWYN >> It had been a long time since Conestoga felt the satisfaction of defeating Upper Darby.
Wednesday at home, the Pioneers felt the angst early, finding themselves in an 18-point hole, but some timely wins and a controversial, momentum-changing turn of events late in the dual meet resulted in an anticlimactic victory over the Royals.
Conestoga won the Central League opener, 37-22, earning its first win over Upper Darby since December, 2008.
"It's huge," Conestoga coach Tom Elicker said. "I can't remember the last time Conestoga beat Upper Darby. It's big. I'm happy and the kids are happy. It got a little crazy there for awhile, but this is one step and next week (against Garnet Valley) is the big one."
Upper Darby (0-1 league, 5-1 overall) didn't trail in the team score through nine bouts, and after Conestoga (1-0, 1-0) tied it, 22-22, the Royals regained the lead, if only momentarily.
Kevin Kerwood (160 pounds) fought off his back in the first and came from behind for a 16-10 win over Liam Matson, but after the bout, Kerwood was given a flagrant misconduct for inappropriate language. This resulted in the three points he had just earned for the decision to be erased, as well as Upper Darby being penalized three team points.
Just like that a 25-22 lead for the Royals turned into a 22-19 deficit.
"It's really disappointing," Upper Darby coach Bob Martin said. "We moved people around to get in better position, but hey, sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you. You have to give credit to Conestoga, though. They came out ready to wrestle."
The penalty sucked all the life out of the room for a few minutes, with fans trying to figure out what had happened. With the momentum gone, Upper Darby surrendered a 2-1 decision to Conestoga's Owen Mallott (170) and then a pin to Severin Johnson (182), who all but sealed the contest with the Pioneers' star, Paul Pelham (220) yet to wrestle.
"I just tried to focus on the match and nothing else," Johnson said. "I was just trying to wrestle and pretend I was flowing, kind of like water."
Upper Darby was runner-up in the Central last year after three straight league titles. With Conestoga's league slate front-loaded, this win was imperative for any hopes at winning its first crown since 2006.
"It's pretty cool because it reflects we're getting better," Johnson said. "It felt good to be the underdog and win it."
The Pioneers climbed out of their early hole thanks to pins by freshman Mitch Baker (120) and Frederick Mucklow (138) and a major decision by Morgan Lofland (132). Conestoga won eight of the final 11 matches to pull away.
"Our first three guys are freshmen and this was their first experience in a high school dual meet," Elicker said. "It's different than middle school or youth. It's a different atmosphere with a good team and there's a learning curve. We'll go back to the room and work on things we failed at."
Upper Darby's youth was executing early, but just didn't have the firepower to win the close matches down the stretch. Still, Martin took some positives away from the competition.
"We're really young," Martin said. "We only have two seniors in the lineup. We showed some fight and the kids are getting better every day and hopefully we'll be able to pull it together to make a run at the end of the year."
With the outcome sealed, Pelham received a forfeit in the finale. Pelham, who finished sixth in the region last year, won his weight at the Mad Mats tournament in Maryland last week and is eager to avenge coming up a win shy of states as a junior.
"I'm excited to see him succeed and get the goals we set for him last year," Elicker said of Pelham. "Being one match away fuels his hunger to get back. He did a lot in the offseason to prepare for this and has his mind set on his goals and we'll see what happens in February and March."