BY ZAKKARIAH ROLFE
In the 152-pound Section 4 semifinals in February, Unatego’s Kevin Thayer trailed 2012 state placewinner Dan Dickman of Greene 10-1. But, he battled back with several takedowns in the third period, including a wild side flip over the top to send the match into overtime, where Thayer prevailed.
“Kevin just trained for that match,” said Unatego assistant coach Jake Benedetto. “Kevin put a lot of work in. He loves being in those kinds of situations.”
He found himself in a similar situation again in the Sectional finals, where he fell behind by six, and again mounted a comeback before falling 9-7 to two-time Section champion Kyle Halliday. However, the Unatego wrestler received a wildcard to the state tournament and earned the number three seed.
The senior started strong in Albany, surrendering only four points on his way to the championship bout against Section 3 champion and top-seeded Rowdy Prior from Phoenix.
In that Saturday night title contest, Thayer gave up a takedown halfway through the first, but was close to getting a reversal right as the period ended.
“Kevin can scramble out of anything,” Benedetto said. “I wrestled in college for four years and we’ll be scrambling for five minutes with no one getting a takedown. He’s one of the most dangerous wrestlers I’ve ever seen because he can just throw anybody. He’s never out of a match.”
Thayer picked neutral to start the second and bounced back strong from the deficit, grabbing a takedown and two back points early.
For the third period, Prior chose to begin on top, where the Phoenix wrestler is well known to be dangerous with the cradle.
“We knew if Kevin were to make it to the finals it would be Prior he would see. We drilled just standing up and clearing for a cradle,” Benedetto said. “They went out of bounds with 34 seconds left and I looked over to [Thayer] and said, ‘Just clear your arm. Let’s get up, no cradle.’ No sooner do I say that, and he’s in a cradle.”
Thayer began rocking, trying to get free. He was able to do more than just get a one point escape, however. He reversed Prior to pick up two points and the lead with short time left on the clock.
“I knew once [Thayer] broke that grip, he would get the one and tie it, but when he got the two I just lost it,” Benedetto said.
Thayer would hold on to a 6-5 lead to win the state title. It turns out, it would be only the beginning of the championship run for the Unatego wrestler.
Ever since that unbelievable reversal, Thayer accomplished a MAWA National championship and added Freestyle and Greco state titles to complete the New York Triple Crown. He won the last two titles in Binghamton on May 11 and 12, beating Beat the Streets wrestler Nigel Williams in both international disciplines.
In Freestyle, Thayer had to battle from behind once again when he dropped an opening period full of big moves, 9-3. He bounced back, taking the second by a narrow 7-6 score. The third period seems to be Thayer’s best no matter what style of wrestling it is and this match was no exception. It was all Thayer from there as he blanked Williams 7-0 in the third to win his second state championship.
Thayer’s third NYS title, in Greco Roman, seemed to be the easiest of them all. He capped off his season in dominating fashion, pinning Williams in the first period to seal the deal.
So after receiving a wildcard to the Times Union Center and battling from behind to beat quality opponents like Dickman, Prior, and Williams, Thayer can officially be named “the Comeback Kid”. He can also be called a 2013 New York State Triple Crown winner.
Editor’s Note: Kevin Thayer was one of four Triple Crown winners in the Empire State this year, along with Lansing’s William Koll, Cheektowoga’s Renaldo Rodriguez-Spencer and Warsaw’s Burke Paddock.