Alex Meyer the hero in Hawkeyes' win over Illinois
IOWA CITY, Ia. – There was a split second Friday that separated the eruption of the home crowd and the final horn when Alex Meyer heard the referee slap the mat.
The Iowa sophomore was almost certain it meant the sound of a dual-tipping victory. To be totally sure, though, all he needed to do was look up and see the head coach of the Hawkeyes waving his arms and inciting the 8,652 in attendance.
Needing a takedown to tie a critical 174-pound bout, Meyer stacked up sixth-ranked Zac Brunson for a last-second pin that fueled top-ranked Iowa's 25-12 victory against No. 11 Illinois at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
"Most people dream about being up 10, 12 points and then sticking him," said Meyer, who filled in Friday for second-ranked starter Mike Evans. "But getting a fall is huge. Getting the crowd on their feet is awesome, no matter how it's done. People come to watch exciting wrestling."
They saw plenty of it Friday and a little bit of extra intensity that spilled off the mat.
Iowa won seven of 10 matches to run its record to 9-0 overall and 4-0 in the Big Ten. But coach Tom Brands said he felt like the Illini "won the majority of the matches."
Brands expressed his displeasure to referee Joseph Tauber after a controversial 133-pound bout and had a post-match argument with Illinois associate head coach Mark Perry, the first wrestler to win an NCAA title under Brands.
"We've got a (Hawkeye Wrestling Club fundraising arctic) plunge (Saturday) and that's what it's going to take to get me cooled off right now," Brands said. "I'm hot under the collar right now."
Meyer's victory prevented Illinois from winning its third consecutive bout of the dual and flipped Iowa on a four-match run to end the meet.
Trailing 5-3 in the closing seconds, Meyer fired off a shot as Brunson draped over the Southeast Polk graduate's shoulders in a bid to fend off the tying score. Tauber slapped the mat with one tick remaining and Brands went into histrionics.
"I'm kind of embarrassed," he said. "I took the spotlight away from Alex Meyer. Wow. The thing is, that attack he hit, he can do that earlier and he can get the first (takedown) and he can do it and do it and do it."
The Hawkeyes held a 16-15 takedown advantage, but only five of Iowa's scores came in the opening period.
Illinois sophomore Zane Richards struck twice in the opening frame against Cory Clark and hung on late for a 6-5 win in a 133-pound bout that riled up Brands and the Iowa crowd.
Clark scored a takedown with 45 seconds remaining to tie the match and appeared to be close to another in the final period.
"I thought I had it and he was laying on his stomach," Clark said. "(It was confusing) a little bit, but that's on me. I should've just kept wrestling instead of assuming I had a takedown. Why not be sure I had the takedown?"
Iowa opened the dual with three victories in the first four bouts. Thomas Gilman scored seven takedowns in an 18-6 major decision against Dominic Olivieri, who filled in for two-time NCAA champion Jesse Delgado.
The Hawkeyes were down a couple starters as well. Brands said Evans and 165-pounder Nick Moore will return to the lineup next week against Northwestern.
Iowa picked up wins from four wrestlers who were favored — Brandon Sorensen (149), Sam Brooks (184), Nathan Burak (197) and heavyweight Bobby Telford — and Josh Dziewa edged Steven Rodrigues 3-2 with a last-minute takedown at 141.
"I'll be dead honest, it's not (a big win)," said Dziewa, who lost to Rodrigues last month at the Midlands. "I could care less about Steven Rodrigues. Really, I feel like I'm miles, miles better than that performance and most of my performances out there. I've just got to figure out how I'm going to do it and I'm on it. Small changes are going to make a big difference."
Iowa 25, Illinois 12
125: Thomas Gilman (Iowa) major dec. Dominic Olivieri, 18-6; 133: Zane Richards (Ill.) dec. Cory Clark, 6-5; 141: Josh Dziewa (Iowa) dec. Steven Rodriguez, 3-2; 149: Brandon Sorensen (Iowa) dec. Kyle Langenderfer, 11-5; 157: Isaiah Martinez (Ill.) tech. fall over Michael Kelly, 21-6 (4:06); 165: Jackson Morse (Ill.) major dec. Logan Thomsen, 12-1; 174: Alex Meyer (Iowa) pinned Zac Brunson, 6:59; 184: Sammy Brooks (Iowa) dec. Nikko Reyes, 7-1; 197: Nathan Burak (Iowa) dec. Jeff Koepke, 3-2; Hwt.: Bobby Telford (Iowa) dec. Brooks Black, 4-0.