Red Lion wrestling beats Dallastown, ending rivalry drought

Ryan Vandersloot
For The York Dispatch

RED LION — It was a long time coming.

While the wait was a bit too long for some, the end result was quite satisfying.

After years of domination by its rival, the Red Lion wrestling team finally scored a triumph over Dallastown on Thursday evening. A quick start fueled the Lions early on, and a handful of victories late clinched a 38-24 win over the Wildcats in the York-Adams League Division I opener for both sides.

Red Lion’s Jackson Orrell against Dallastown’s Aiden Karlie in Red Lion on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022.

“It’s been a long while,” Red Lion coach Matt Helwig said.

In fact, the last time Red Lion downed Dallastown on the mats was back on Feb. 3, 2016. Back then, most of the current Lions lineup was either in elementary or middle school.

“I’m really happy for the guys,” Helwig said. “They’ve all been putting in the work in the offseason and preseason, so I’m just really happy for them.”

The Lions jumped out quickly as the match began at 139 pounds, which was a strong suit for the hosts and a bit of a wild card for Dallastown. The trio of freshman Wylan Damon (139), senior Tyler Bootier (145) and senior Owen Smith (152) all recorded falls to give the home team an 18-0 lead.

Frank Gulli, another Red Lion senior, scored a tech fall (19-3) to push the Lions' advantage to a very comfortable 23-0 margin.

“The middle of our lineup is where we have a bunch of freshmen and sophomores who all have little to no varsity experience,” Dallastown coach Dan Thoman said. “So we knew we were going to come out a little slow, but we knew we had some of our more veteran people waiting in the wings.”

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As Thoman expected, the visitors clawed their way back into it, starting with a fall from Adam Godfrey at 172. Isaiah Feeney and Ben Usow followed up with decisions to cut the deficit to 23-12. A bit of shocker occurred at 285, as Dallastown’s Jonathan Rhodes scored a third-period fall over Ethan Nelson to cut Red Lion’s lead down to 23-18.

Thursday was a bit of a redemption night for a few of the Wildcats, most notably Usow and Rhodes. Both Dallastown heavyweights were defeated by their Red Lion foes at the season-opening Solanco Tournament a few weeks ago only to turn the tables in the rematch.

“That was part of what we’ve been talking about since Solanco,” Thoman said. “We knew that we would have to turn those around tonight. Those three — Usow, Rhodes and Damian Key — they’re part of our more experienced seniors and juniors. They were guys that we needed to come through and they did.”

While the Wildcats were unable to complete the comeback, one of the more entertaining bouts of the night also went in their favor. Senior Mekenzie Gipson-McDonald, who is a stalwart for the Dallastown girls’ wrestling team, was called up to fill in at 107.

After falling behind on an early takedown, Gipson-McDonald nearly scored a fall with a reversal, but instead settled for three near-fall points to take a 5-2 lead. She tacked on a takedown in the third to score a 7-4 victory that had her fans from girls’ team loudly cheering on their star.

Red Lion’s Connor Rogers against Dallastown’s McKenzie Gibson in Red Lion on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022.

“It was a bit of a roll of the dice,” Thoman said. “A bit of a gamble, but we thought she might have a shot at it and she pulled it off. That was great. … It was a lot of fun for sure.”

Gipson-McDonald’s decision drew Dallastown to within 23-21 with four bouts remaining, but Brayden Seager earned an 18-2 tech fall at 114 before Jackson Orell scored a major decision (17-5) at 121 to put Red Lion ahead 32-21 with two matches remaining.

Needing at least a tech fall at 127 to keep the Wildcats alive, Key was unable to secure those points. Still, the Dallastown standout earned a 7-2 decision over Mason Harvey to exact revenge for a 7-6 setback at Solanco.

Red Lion’s Aaron Simpson scored a fall in the final match of the night to close out the 38-34 triumph.

While Thursday’s victory was thrilling and eagerly awaited by the Red Lion team, its fans and Helwig himself, the season is only just beginning. Next week, the Lions will host another contender in Spring Grove, which defeated Central York 39-33 Wednesday.

Helwig knows that expectations are one thing, but despite believing his team matches up well on paper against the Rockets, he knows it will all come down to execution next week if his team is to upset Spring Grove.

“I do think that we match up pretty good against them, but we’ll see,” Helwig said. “You never know.”