COLUMBUS, Ohio --The words were sharp, and they sliced right to Josh Dziewa's competitive nerves five weeks ago after he walked off the mat in Minneapolis.
The Iowa senior dropped a decision that night against Minnesota's Nick Dardanes, but his biggest wrestling sin was barely firing a shot — and coach Tom Brands let him know in a straight-to-the-point post-match conversation.
"He told me that I didn't compete. He told me I went out there and didn't even make a move," Dziewa said. "It hurt, and he's said it to me before. But to hear it as a fifth-year senior, damn, what do I have to do out there to get it going?"
Saturday produced quite a redemptive start inside St. John Arena.
Dziewa toppled a pair of higher-seeded opponents and downed Dardanes to reach the 141-pound title bout at the Big Ten Championships. He provided a tonic for the Hawkeyes on a gut-twisting day when they raced to an early lead, stumbled and then picked themselves up to remain in the title race.
Ohio State, which hasn't won a conference wrestling crown since 1951, moved to the top of the leaderboard with 102.5 points at the conclusion of the tournament's first day. The Hawkeyes are second with 101, while Minnesota is third with 86.5.
"We did some work that was good to keep us in there when we had some things fall apart a little bit," Brands said.
The checklist of positives included finalists Thomas Gilman, Brandon Sorensen and Bobby Telford.
Gilman scored a takedown with 49 seconds remaining and rode Penn State's Jordan Conaway the rest of the way for a 5-4 semifinal win at 125. Sorensen held down Michigan's Alec Pantaleo to claim a 2-0 victory at 149. Telford struck on a low-level shot in overtime to knock out Wisconsin's top-seeded Connor Medberry 3-1 at heavyweight.
Iowa needed every semifinal victory it could muster after seventh-seeded seniors Michael Kelly and Nick Moore got bounced in the consolation second round, a dent to the top-to-bottom depth that carried the Hawkeyes in the regular season. Both will need at-large tickets to reach the NCAA Championships.
The bigger blow to Iowa's title hopes, though, might have occurred in Saturday's morning session when sophomore Sam Brooks gave up a takedown with five seconds remaining and another in overtime to drop a 6-4 decision to Penn State's Matt McCutcheon at 184, becoming the first No. 1 seed to stumble.
Brooks won two consolation bouts to join Cory Clark (133), Mike Evans (174) and Nathan Burak (197) in Sunday's consolation semifinals.
Dziewa helped the Hawkeyes compensate for points they lost elsewhere. The sixth seed beat No. 3 Anthony Abidin in the quarterfinals and then wiped out Dardanes 5-1 in the semis.
"It's good, but let's put it in perspective," Brands said. "We've got another match and then another tournament. But I'm not taking anything away from him."
The next opponent for Dziewa is three-time Big Ten and NCAA champ Logan Stieber of Ohio State. It's one of two head-to-head championship bouts between the Hawkeyes and Buckeyes. The other is at 125, where Gilman takes on freshman Nathan Tomasello.
The Iowa sophomore prevailed 2-1 in a tiebreaker in their January meeting.
"He thinks he owes me," Gilman said. "I'll tell him this: I owe him. I owe him a whoopin'. I've taken it to him a lot the last two years on the freestyle circuit and our last match was double overtime. He probably feels pretty good about that. That was a moral victory for him."
Like Iowa, Ohio State has four finalists and four wrestlers still in contention for third. One of those in the consolations is Hunter Stieber, who forfeited his semifinal bout at 149 against Northwestern's Jason Tsirtsis.
The Buckeyes also have another wrestler competing for seventh.
"A lot of it's in our hands if you're talking about the team race," Brands said. "But really, it's about being strong individually and continuing that path."