Last-match pin leads Iowa wrestling to escape with dual victory over Illinois

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — As the Hawkeyes’ first Big Ten wrestling dual of the season neared its end, it looked like Illinois might walk out of Carver-Hawkeye Arena Friday night with its first win over Iowa since 2004-05.

Then Sam Stoll happened.

“I heard some guys in the room cheering, and I thought Stoll was going to bomb him,” said Cash Wilcke, Iowa’s starting 197-pounder.

“Then I looked at it, but we’ll take that, too.”

Stoll’s first-period pin over Deuce Rachal at heavyweight secured Iowa’s 18-17 comeback victory. The Hawkeyes have now won eight straight over the Illini and are now 5-0 on the year (1-0 Big Ten).

For a time, it looked as if Illinois would get the better of Iowa. The numbers will say the Illini dominated this dual — they outscored the Hawkeyes in total match points 53-40 and scored twice as many takedowns (18-9).

The vast majority of that offensive output came in the form of Isaiah Martinez, Illinois’s otherworldly 165-pounder. The senior racked up 10 takedowns en route to a 24-8 technical-fall win over Kaleb Young after the intermission that put the Illini up 14-6.

That result was, at the time, a huge blow to the 8,206 inside Carver. The Hawkeyes dropped the first three matches to fall into a 9-0 hole. In each, their Illinois counterpart scored the first takedown, a trend that allowed worry to fester.

“These guys were holding points from us, but they were scoring, too,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “They wrestled strategy matches all the way up their lineup. Holding points and scoring first-period takedowns and riding hard.

“If you’re giving up nine first-period takedowns and getting one, you’re going to really struggle. But we did not fight … that is not where we should be struggling. We know that we have work to do.”

Brandon Sorensen and Michael Kemerer raised spirits with decision victories at 149 and 157, respectively, bringing Iowa within 9-6 at the midway point. Martinez’s demolition sapped that hope as quickly as it materialized.

Joey Gunther followed with a 6-1 win at 174, and Mitch Bowman nearly upset 11th-ranked Emery Parker at 184. A takedown in the second period and an escape in the third gave the junior a 3-2 lead, but Parker responded with a takedown and a rideout to win 5-3 and give Illinois a 17-9 advantage.

A victory from Wilcke at 197 was necessary if Iowa was to have any chance. He delivered with a duck-under takedown in overtime to top Andre Lee 3-1. That set the stage for Stoll, who knew that only a pin would suffice.

In Rachal, he had an opponent with a judo background. For the first 90 seconds, the two traded upper-body locks and ties. Stoll, of course, is comfortable there. He was a member of the 2013 Junior Greco-Roman World team and won a bronze medal that year.

And on Friday, Stoll used his heavy hips when Rachal attempted a throw near the edge. Stoll cinched up a lock and got the fall at the 2:02 mark of the bout, spurring excitement inside Carver — associate head coach Terry Brands celebrated by leaping over the scorer’s table and high-fiving fans.

Iowa associate head coach Terry Brands jumps over the scorer's table to high-five fans after heavyweight Sam Stoll secures a win for the Hawkeyes after pinning Illinois' Deuce Rachel at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017.

“I could tell right away that that guy was going to try and throw me,” Stoll said. “This isn’t my first rodeo. I’ve been wrestling guys like that my whole life. I think I’m pretty good in a body lock. I don’t know what he’s thinking trying to throw me when his team is up five points.”

It was a celebration worthy of the moment, but Tom Brands was even-keel afterward. He got exactly what he expected with Illinois: a low-scoring fight. On Friday night, his team did just enough to escape.

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

No. 10 Iowa 18, No. 16 Illinois 17

125 -- Travis Piotrowski (ILL) dec. Justin Stickley (IA), 7-4
133 -- Dylan Duncan (ILL) dec. Phillip Laux (IA), 6-1
141 -- Mike Carr (ILL) dec. Vince Turk (IA), 7-5
149 -- Brandon Sorensen (IA) dec. Eric Batone (ILL), 4-1
157 -- Michael Kemerer (IA) Kyle Langenderfer (ILL), 4-1
165 -- Isaiah Martinez (ILL) tech. fall Kaleb Young (IA), 24-8
174 -- Joey Gunther (IA) dec. David Riojas (ILL), 6-1
184 -- Emery Parker (ILL) dec. Mitch Bowman (IA), 5-3
197 -- Cash Wilcke (IA) dec. Andre Lee (ILL), 3-1 SV1
285 -- Sam Stoll (IA) pinned Deuce Rachal (ILL), 2:02