Wrestling: Northern Iowa tops Iowa State in a thriller at the West Gym

Cody Goodwin
The Des Moines Register

CEDAR FALLS, Ia. — If the future duals between the Northern Iowa and Iowa State wrestling programs are anything like Thursday night’s tussle here at the West Gym, wrestling fans in the state of Iowa are in for a treat for years and years to come.

Northern Iowa beat Iowa State, 22-13, before a sold-out crowd. The Panthers end their regular season with a 7-5 overall record and a 7-1 mark against Big 12 competition. The Cyclones fall to 10-3 and 6-2 with a Sunday home dual against Missouri still to go.

“Give credit to UNI,” Iowa State coach Kevin Dresser said. “They were the better team tonight. There’s no question about it.”

This dual was a thriller from start to finish. The announced crowd was 2,100, Northern Iowa’s first sellout of the 2018-19 season, but every indication suggested a few more squeezed in. They all watched the Panthers take six of 10 bouts and defeat Iowa State for a third-straight time, the first such instance since Northern Iowa won 11 straight in the series 1940-52. 

The formula for this dual was simple for both teams — win the matches you should, score bonus points when you can, and win the swing matches. When the final whistle sounded, a wild combination had unfolded. The Cyclones actually scored more total takedowns than the home team (16-12), but the Panthers totaled more match points (60-58).

“I looked at it on paper coming in, and I feel like they have five All-Americans in the lineup,” Dresser said. “I think they’re that good. Anytime you wrestle a team with potentially five All-Americans, you’re going to be in for a tough night.”

Northern Iowa was lifted by a pair of big bonus-point victories after the intermission. Bryce Steiert scored three takedowns and two sets of four-point near fall en route to a 16-1 technical fall over Iowa State freshman Logan Schumacher at 165 pounds.

Taylor Lujan followed with a third-period fall over Marcus Coleman at 174. Coleman led 4-2 in the second period after a blast-double. Lujan escaped and scored a takedown to lead 5-4, then reversed Coleman to his back to start the third for an 11-4 lead. He locked up a cradle for the pin in six minutes, 39 seconds. That put the Panthers up 20-8 with three matches left.

“The reversal, I was like, OK, that’s good, good lead,” Lujan said afterward. “He took a sloppy shot on my good leg to cradle, too. I don’t know. It just happened.

“You’re always looking for bonus points, but there’s a fine line between looking for the pin and looking for a scrap. I focused on that all week. I told (assistant coach Lee Roper) all week that I was going to pin this guy.”

Lujan’s pin swung the dual in Northern Iowa’s favor. The Panthers won three of the first five bouts, but led just 9-8 at the intermission. Iowa State received five points from redshirt freshman Austin Gomez, who scored six takedowns in a 21-4 technical fall over Jack Skudlarczyk at 133.

But Northern Iowa effectively nixed that result by winning a couple of the dual’s more highly-anticipated matches. At 141 pounds, Josh Alber scored a takedown with two seconds left to beat Ian Parker, 3-1. Max Thomsen followed with a 7-5 win over Jarrett Degen at 149, wherein he led 4-1 after the first period thanks to a takedown and a tilt that netted two back points.

“I just had to do my thing,” said Alber, who’s now won 15-straight matches to improve to 27-4 overall. “Try to grind him down, grind him down, grind him down. I don’t know if I caught him a little overzealous or if I just committed to the attack, but it ended up working out.”

But Iowa State did not go quietly into the cold winter night. After Lujan’s big pin, Iowa State’s Sam Colbray upset Drew Foster at 184 pounds. Foster led 4-3 after a takedown early in the third, but Colbray struck back with two of his own to close out an 8-5 decision, making the team score 20-11 in favor of the Panthers.

Willie Miklus inched the Cyclones within a match with his 5-0 win at 197. Early in the first period, Iowa State’s redshirt senior nearly took down Northern Iowa’s Tyrell Gordon on the edge, but the official waved it off. Both coaching staffs got into a small shouting match near the head table, which deducted both teams a point, making it 19-13 Panthers with one to go.

“I was just messing with him,” Northern Iowa coach Doug Schwab said. “I have a ton of respect for those guys, but when we compete, you know what, it’s tooth and nail. It’s a fight. It’s blood, because we’re fighting for our guys because we love our guys.

“I was messing with him because I don’t think he was complying in the corner, and I made sure I told him. But I should never cost out team a point. I’ll put that on me and I’ll apologize to my team. I have to have better control than that because I ask them to have better control than that.”

That allowed Northern Iowa heavyweight Carter Isley some breathing room. He faced Iowa State’s Gannon Gremmel, and the two had split in their previous two matchups — Isley by fall, Gremmel by decision. All Isley needed to do was not surrender a pin, and the Panthers won the dual.

He did one better. After a scoreless first period, Gremmel rode Isley out in the second, and Isley replicated the effort in the third, sending the scoreless match into sudden victory. Eighteen seconds in, Isley hit a high-crotch for two points and the victory, sending the jam-packed West Gym crowd into a frenzy.

When the dual ended, Schwab pumped his fists and took in the moment — the crowd, the dual, everything. He said afterward that he wouldn’t mind recreating that kind of atmosphere in the future.

“That’s what we want,” Schwab said. “What a fun environment. If you’re not leaving asking, ‘Hey man, when can I come back?’ then something’s wrong.

“We’ve created a rival within the Big 12. We’ve created a rival in-state. Hopefully, what we do as teams, we continue to elevate the level of wrestling in the state of Iowa. They’ve done a great job moving that program forward.”

Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.

No. 17 Northern Iowa 22, No. 18 Iowa State 13

125: No. 24 Jay Schwarm (UNI) dec. Alex Mackall (ISU), 6-3
133: No. 7 Austin Gomez (ISU) tech. fall Jack Skudlarczyk (UNI), 21-4
141: No. 7 Josh Alber (UNI) dec. No. 10 Ian Parker (ISU), 3-1
149: No. 13 Max Thomsen (UNI) dec. No. 8 Jarrett Degen (ISU), 7-5
157: Chase Straw (ISU) dec. Paden Moore (UNI), 9-4
165: No. 12 Bryce Steiert (UNI) tech. fall Logan Schumacher (ISU), 16-1
174: No. 6 Taylor Lujan (UNI) over Marcus Coleman (ISU) by fall, 6:39
184: No. 14 Sam Colbray (ISU) dec. No. 7 Drew Foster (UNI), 8-5
197: No. 5 Willie Miklus (ISU) dec. Tyrell Gordon (UNI), 5-0
285: Carter Isley (UNI) dec. Gannon Gremmel (ISU), 2-0 (SV1)
Rankings from Trackwrestling.