Ealy captures national title at 149 for Pitt-Johnstown

Mar. 17—Pat Pecora talked all season about wanting to see Jacob Ealy put a stamp on his Pitt-Johnstown wrestling career with a Division II national title.

Consider it signed, sealed and delivered.

Ealy captured the 149-pound championship to lead four All-Americans and help the Mountain Cats finish sixth in the team standings on Saturday night in Park City, Kansas. Isaiah Vance placed fifth at 285 pounds while Trevon Gray (125) and Dakoda Rodgers (197) each placed seventh.

"It was awesome. Everybody ended their season on a winning note, all of them that wrestled," said Pecora, who did some winning of his own.

On a night when Division II celebrated its 50th year, Pecora took home the Bob Bubb Coaching Excellence Award in his 48th NCAA tournament. The award is named for the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) Hall of Fame coach who led Clarion to more than 320 dual meet victories. It is presented annually to an outstanding coach who epitomizes the qualities and characteristics of a role model and mentor for developing young student-athletes.

Ealy was the latest example of that for Pecora, who has coached 15 wrestlers to 23 national titles.

"He's a second father to me," Ealy said of Pecora. "He's helped me so much in wrestling, but, honestly, I think he might have helped me more in life. That's what you're looking for in a coach, and he's the best.

Ealy, who became Pitt-Johnstown's first champion since Chris Eddins won a second title in 2019, can now say that he's the best. Not that the humble, soft-spoken senior would actually do that, but he certainly could after three previous All-American finishes that fell short of the ultimate goal.

"He finally put the stamp on it," Pecora said. "He's been a national champion to us here at Pitt-Johnstown for three years. He's done everything. Just a great young man, a leader by example. Very quiet. He comes to work every day, puts the time in and does it like a true gentleman. He treats people right. No ego. I'm just super happy for him."

Against upstart Cody Thompson of the Colorado School of Mines, Ealy's 149-pound final turned on what was essentially a 10-point swing. Thompson looked like he was going to score the opening takedown, but Ealy rolled through and came up with a single-leg takedown of his own, then turned the unseeded wrestler for four near-fall points.

Ealy has been one of the most dominant wrestlers in Division II this season, but after getting the big lead he got a bit defensive in what ended up being a 12-7 victory.

"That's one thing that I definitely could have done better, but in the national finals up 7-0, it's hard to go for a tech fall," Ealy said with a laugh. "If you give up one thing, he's right back in it. I was a little conservative, but it got the job done."

Ealy's semifinal victory was much more dramatic. He trailed Central Oklahoma's Dylan Brown 4-0 with about 30 seconds remaining in the second period, but Ealy scored a takedown and near fall to take the lead on his way to a 6-4 victory.

"When he was down 4-0, he actually did a slide-by, which he didn't do all year, and threw legs in and hit a cradle, which he didn't do all year," Pecora said. "The conventional things that normally worked for him didn't. That's the biggest difference I saw in him this year — he was able to adjust."

Brown came close to a takedown on the boundary with one second left, and Central Oklahoma challenged that he did score but the call was upheld on review. When the final second ticked off, the normally stoic Ealy screamed and flexed his muscles in celebration.

"I was just so pumped up after that match, just punching my ticket to the finals," he said.

By comparison, his title-winning celebration — a hug for Pecora and assistant coach Tyler Reinhart — was a bit subdued, although it was easy to see the joy on Ealy's face.

"It feels great. Long time coming. To accomplish something that you put that much work in for, it's an amazing feeling," he said after the final match of his career. "It's great to go out on top. I did that in high school and I got to do that in college. I put in so much work. It definitely feels good. All the hard work paid off."

Vance was beaten 14-4 in the semifinals by Central Oklahoma's Shawn Streck, who won his second championship on Saturday night. Nebraska-Kearney's Crew Howard beat Vance 7-3 in a consolation semifinal, but the Mountain Cat bounced back with an 8-0 major decision over Augustana's Zach Peterson in the fifth-place match.

Rodgers fell 5-1 to Nebraska-Kearney's Jackson Kinsella on Saturday morning but rebounded to beat Grand Valley State's Wyatt Miller 5-1 in the seventh-place match. After losing to Miller in a dual earlier this season, Rodgers beat him twice at the NCAA tournament.

Gray lost 8-2 to Nebraska-Kearney's Zachary Ourada on Saturday morning but the Pitt-Johnstown sophomore scored takedowns in the first and second periods of his 7-1 victory over Davenport's Manuel Leija for seventh place.