Iowa Hawkeye wrestling muscles past Illinois, 25-19, in Big Ten opener

Cody Goodwin
Des Moines Register

IOWA CITY — The Iowa wrestling team's Big Ten opener wasn't exactly the lopsided victory many inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena hoped for on Friday night.

The second-ranked Hawkeyes muscled through Illinois, 25-19, to improve to 8-0 overall and 1-0 against conference opponents. The dual ended 5-5 in matches won, but Iowa prevailed thanks to scoring a bundle of bonus points — or at least more bonus points than the Illini, who fell to 2-3 and 0-1.

Those bonus points: pins from Spencer Lee (125) and Max Murin (149), a major decision from Patrick Kennedy (165), and a victory by stalling disqualification from Tony Cassioppi (285). Each one gave the Hawkeyes the team lead after they were trailing or tied:

  • Lee's pin, in the first period over Maximo Renteria, gave Iowa a 6-0 lead.
  • Murin's pin, over Kevon Davenport in 3:34, gave Iowa a 12-10 lead.
  • Kennedy's major decision, 15-4 over Dan Braunagel, gave Iowa a 16-13 lead.
  • And Cassioppi's stalling disqualification over Matt Wroblewski clinched Iowa's 12th straight win over Illinois.

"I knew that I had to do my job," said Murin, who's now 11-1 with eight bonus-point wins this season. That was also his first pin in Carver since Nov. 16, 2018, during his redshirt freshman season. He continued: "I realized that we were down, so I definitely had to step up for the team."

In all, there were four lead changes and three ties — at 6-6, 16-16 and 19-19 — during the dual. Illinois scored more total takedowns than Iowa (17-13), but the Hawkeyes scored far more total match points (72-47). Similar to Iowa's 18-15 win over Iowa State earlier this year, the Hawkeyes' big-play ability led to victory.

Maybe it's just a Big Ten-opener thing. Last year, Iowa opened conference action against Minnesota, and despite winning that dual 22-10, Iowa coach Tom Brands said he was "agitated" afterward. On Friday night, Brands was frustrated again, with a few different things.

"There’s a concerted effort in the sport of wrestling to keep things close when you’re outmatched, or just because you like to wrestle that way," Brands said. "If we let that happen, then we’ll be in these situations all year. That’s reality. That’s wrestling."

The close matches came in the second half of the dual, but five of the first six resulted in bonus points. That includes two consecutive bonus-point wins for Illinois, who is ranked No. 30 by InterMat. Lucas Byrd pinned Cullan Schriever at 133 pounds and Danny Pucino recorded a 20-8 major decision over Drew Bennett at 141.

After Murin's pin, Michael Carr's 12-7 win over Cobe Siebrecht at 157 gave the Illini a 13-12 halftime lead. Of Illinois' 17 takedowns, 15 came from Pucino (9), Carr (5), and Byrd (1). Of their 47 total match points scored, 37 came from Pucino, Carr, Byrd and Davenport, who was gifted three escapes before Murin pinned him.

"Things weren’t good," Brands said. "We had 12 points on the board. We won two matches with two falls. At 141, we have to figure something out there with energy; 133, we come off the bottom there and we’re on our heels. We’re just not aware. We’re on the edge of the mat and literally go waylaid to our back. You have to be aware."

Kennedy opened the second half of the dual by scoring four takedowns in a 15-4 win over Braunagel, who's ranked No. 11 nationally at 165 pounds by InterMat. Braunagel scored a takedown in the third period to come within 7-4, but Kennedy escaped and took Braunagel to his back for the major — and a 16-13 Iowa lead.

"When a dude tries to slow you down, you have to be aware," said Kennedy, who's now 10-1 with eight bonus wins this season. "You have to wrestle how you want to wrestle the whole time. If it's a firefight, you wrestle the same. If he tries to slow you down, you pick it up. Whatever you do, make it your pace."

Added Brands: "Mark Ironside on the radio, he gave Kennedy his (outstanding wrestler) award … I agree with Ironside. Come out to a cold arena, you have to do some business. He did a good job."

After Kennedy's 15-point outburst — the seventh time in 11 matches he's scored double-digit points, by the way — the next three matches featured 11 points, total. All three were decided by two points or less, and Iowa lost two of them on points scored in the third period of overtime:

  • At 174, Nelson Brands lost to Edmond Ruth, 2-1, when Ruth escaped with 3 seconds left in the tiebreaker rideout.
  • At 184, Abe Assad countered a shot from Dylan Connell to score a takedown midway through the third period to win, 3-1.
  • At 197, Zac Braunagel scored a takedown in the final 10 seconds to beat Jacob Warner, 3-1.
Illinois' Edmond Ruth, left, wrestles Iowa's Nelson Brands at 174 pounds Friday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

The combination made the team score 19-all — and made Tom Brands very unhappy.

"You need to pick up the pace," Brands said. "You need to work harder. You have to realize that there’s strategy going on out there to slow the match down. You cannot let that match slow down … we have work to do. We have to realize and make a decision on whether or not we are going to allow that to happen to us. It's that simple.

"When you look at the landscape in the sport of wrestling, it’s been going on since I’ve been in the sport," Brands continued, "and you have a choice. You have to decide how hard you want to work and what your philosophy is and how you go out when that first whistle goes and how you wrestle it all the way to the end."

Fortunately for Iowa, Cassioppi won the dual. He led 12-0 when he forced Wroblewski, a former 197-pounder, into a fifth stall call, resulting in disqualification. Three stall calls came in the first period alone, but Cassioppi also scored two takedowns. He took Wroblewski to his back in the second period to blow the match open.

If it is just a Big ten opener thing, the good news is that Purdue seems to be the proper antidote. The Hawkeyes wrestle the 22nd-ranked Boilermakers on Sunday afternoon in West Lafayette, Ind. The dual starts at 1 p.m. CT, and will be televised on Big Ten Network.

Last year, Iowa followed an “agitating” win over Minnesota by trouncing Purdue, 34-6. Brands will happily sign up for a repeat performance on Sunday.

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

#2 Iowa 25, Illinois 19

  • 125: #1 Spencer Lee (IA) pinned Maximo Renteria (IL) in 2:22
  • 133: #10 Lucas Byrd (IL) pinned #17 Cullan Schriever (IA) in 2:59
  • 141: Danny Pucino (IL) maj. dec. Drew Bennett (IA), 20-8
  • 149: #5 Max Murin (IA) pinned Kevon Davenport (IL) in 3:34
  • 157: Michael Carr (IL) dec. #17 Cobe Siebrecht (IA), 12-7
  • 165: #13 Patrick Kennedy (IA) maj. dec. #11 Danny Braunagel (IL), 15-4
  • 174: #10 Edmond Ruth (IL) dec. #16 Nelson Brands (IA), 2-1 (TB)
  • 184: #8 Abe Assad (IA) dec. #29 Dylan Connell (IL), 3-1
  • 197: #13 Zac Braunagel (IL) dec. #6 Jacob Warner (IA), 3-1
  • 285: #3 Tony Cassioppi (IA) over Matt Wroblewski (IL) by DQ (5:57)