When Delran High School senior Marcus Miraglia arrived in Atlantic City on Friday night, he wasn't sure about his chance of winning a wrestling state title.
"I still had some doubts," Miraglia said.
By Saturday afternoon, Miraglia was starting to think it was possible.
"I got a pin in my first match and then I beat a really good kid and I was like, 'I might be able to do this,' " Miraglia said.
And with 15 seconds left in his 145-pound semifinal bout on Saturday night, Miraglia was positive about his championship prospects.
"I had it," Miraglia said about an hour later, standing in a little alcove off near the arena floor of Boardwalk Hall.
Miraglia is right. He had it. He was 15 seconds away from beating Bound Brook's Stephan Glasgow and advancing to Sunday's state championship bout.
Then he was 14 seconds away . . . and 13 seconds . . . and 12.
"Give him credit," Miraglia said. "He's a good wrestler. He's probably a nice kid. He wrestled better than me tonight."
Glasgow registered a takedown with 0:07 on the clock and held on for a 7-6 victory in one of the most exciting bouts of the semifinals - and one of the gut-wrenching for the athlete on the wrong side of the final score, and his coaches, family and friends.
"What a heartbreaker," said Delran assistant coach Dennis Smith. "I thought he had him pinned [early in the second period]."
Miraglia used a cradle to tilt Glasgow and register three back points to take a 5-2 lead. He said he "saw" the pin but wasn't surprised that the referee didn't call it.
"It's not up to me, and it's not up to my coaches," Miraglia said. "It's the referee's call, and usually in these kinds of matches you have to hold it twice as long."
Miraglia arrived in Atlantic City with a 36-0 record as the Region 7 champion. Despite that mark, he was only a No. 4 seed in the bottom bracket, mainly because he had failed to place in the states as a sophomore and junior.
This year is different. Miraglia showed that with a pin of Hanover Park's Christian Bassolino in 39 seconds on Friday night, and a 1-0 victory over St Joseph of Montvale's Matt Zovistoski, the No. 2 seed in the bottom bracket, in the quarterfinals.
Miraglia had beaten Glasgow by a point earlier this season and took leads of 2-0 and 5-2 in a featured bout in the middle of the arena floor under that famous vaulted ceiling and before a crowd of nearly 10,000.
He was that close to making the finals.
But that's the thing about the state wrestling championships. On Friday night, 336 wrestlers arrive - and 14 of them are standing at the top step of the podium on Sunday afternoon.
Everybody else has to deal with defeat. Miraglia handled his setback with remarkable aplomb, considering he was an undefeated senior who was seconds away from the state championship bout when things got away from him.
"It's just a wrestling match," Miraglia said. "It's just a sport like baseball or football."
He will try to wrestle his way back to third place on Sunday. But he already accepted the adversity of a heartbreaking loss like a champion on Saturday night.