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The Record, Tuesday, March 13, 2001 -- Sport Section

Heights’ hero paid a price
Horner shed blood and sweat to become champ

By Gregory Schutta, Staff Writer

There were few believers in Continental Arena on Sunday afternoon when Morgan Horner stepped on the mat, broken nose and all, to face returning State champ Chris Skretkowicz of Wallkill Valley. Even his mother Brigit sheepishly admits now that she thought he was going to lose.

But the senior from Hasbrouck Heights didn’t wait long to make believers out of the nearly 10,000 fans at the State wrestling championships.

"I put him on his back and I could hear the whole place go ‘Oh!’" Horner said.

Twenty seconds later, after beating the wrestler they said was unbeatable, Horner didn’t have the slightest clue what to do.

"I was crazy," the newly crowned 189-pound State champion said one day later. "I was all over the place. It was like I was dreaming. I look at the tape today and there’s one point where I’m jumping up and down at the same time."

"It was the most emotional moment I’ve ever had in wrestling," Heights coach Mike Scuilla said. I’ve never seen Morgan get excited before. He wanted to go nuts, but he didn’t know how. Finally he comes running at me from about 30 feet away. Jumps. I caught him, and now my knee is sore. It’s a small price to pay."

Horner nearly paid the price even before he set foot on the mat against Skretkowicz. Horner broke his nose in the semifinals against Livingston’s Anthony Antonucci and nearly got bounced from the tournament on an injury default before pinning Antonucci in the second period.

"There was no doubt that he would wrestle in the final," Scuilla said. "The question was whether we could get him through the semifinal [because] he was bleeding so badly. He performed some magic to pin the guy that quick and get out of there."

"Nobody told me," Horner said. "They didn’t tell me that I was bleeding through the tape [in the semis], which is probably a good thing because then I probably would have panicked and tried to end it quick."

Horner went into the final four hours later unable to breathe through his nose. There were two wads of gauze plugging up his nose, held in place by glue and a large square piece of clear plastic tape holding the entire thing together. But he decided to pass on the mask Scuilla had hunted down from another coach.

"This is wrestling," he said. "You do what you have to do."

The previously undefeated Skretkowicz had won 75 straight matches, being taken down just once all season, and boasted three victories, two by technical fall, over Horner during summer tournaments and camps.

But none of that mattered to Horner.

Horner, who boasts a strong single-leg attack, did just that, taking Skretkowicz down for just the second time this season early in the match.

"I was shocked," Horner said. "I just wrestled like I always do. If I don’t get the first takedown, I panic."

Skretkowicz quickly escaped, but Horner went back on the offensive with his single leg. And when Skretkowicz tried a whizzer, or hip roll, Horner was able to drive Skretkowicz to his back, drawing a roar from the crowd.

"I had him on his back for like 20 seconds," Horner said. "I knew I was going to pin him. I didn’t care how strong he is, there was no way he was going to get off his back."

"I don’t know why I ever doubted him," Brigit Horner said. "I usually try to be quiet, let him listen to his coaches. But when he won, I was screaming. I couldn’t believe it."

And neither could anybody else as the Arena rocked following the 87-second pin.

"Everybody loves an upset," Horner said. "That’s what makes this sport so exciting. You think there would have been that much noise if he had teched me?"

Horner returned to Hasbrouck Heights on Sunday night as the conquering hero. The family’s front lawn was covered with balloons and a banner reading "Congratulations State Champion," and his name was up in lights on the marquee outside the school Monday.

"It’s funny because on Saturday [in the quarterfinals], he had this real deer in the headlights look," Brigit Horner said. "I thought he’d be all nervous out there Sunday with the lights and the cameras and everything. But he looked so relaxed when he went out there, it didn't even look like him."

Horner became just the second State champion in school history, joining heavyweight Billy Spindler, who won in 1975. He was also named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler.

Scuilla said he’s thinking of retiring Horner’s semifinal singlet, the one with all the blood from the broken nose. But a more likely tribute is a banner in the gym.

"It didn’t really hit me until I saw the paper [Monday]," Horner said. "I still feel like I’m dreaming."


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