Indianola’s Ryder Downey wins Class 3A state wrestling title, stops Robert Avila Jr. from becoming a 4-time champ

Cody Goodwin
Des Moines Register

The sold-out crowd inside Wells Fargo Arena reached a deafening crescendo around 8 p.m. on Saturday night — not to recognize a rare and historic accomplishment, but to applaud someone who stopped one from happening.

Ryder Downey, the venerable senior from Indianola, rallied to beat Iowa City West’s Robert Avila Jr., 6-5, in the Class 3A state finals at 145 pounds. In doing so, Downey won his own state title, and also denied Avila becoming a four-time state champ.

“That was a really ugly match,” Downey said. “A really, really ugly match. It hasn’t settled in yet, for sure.”

History was on the line at the 2022 state wrestling championships, as three wrestlers attempted to become four-time state champions. It would’ve been the first time in state history that three wrestlers all became four-timers in the same season.

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Ryder Downey of Indianola beat Robert Avila of Iowa City West in their Class 3A state championship match at 145 pounds on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.

New London’s Marcel Lopez did it first, winning a Class 1A title at 126 pounds with a 5-3 win over Riverside’s Jace Rose. Crestwood’s Carter Fousek joined him a half-hour later, defeating South Tama County’s Logan Arp, 7-1, to win 138 in Class 2A.

Avila nearly pulled it off in the first period. Downey took a shot near the edge, and Avila muscled him to his back and almost pinned him. Downey kept his shoulders off the mat but still faced a 5-0 deficit, a lead Avila took into the third period.

There, Avila chose down, and Downey, one of the state’s better top wrestlers, took advantage by turning him for two back points with 40 seconds left, then turning him for three more 20 seconds later, tying the match and forcing overtime.

“I liked that the ref gave me a quick two-count,” Downey said and smiled. “It was a debatable two-count, but I’ll take it.”

After a scoreless sudden-victory period, they went to the tiebreaker rideouts, where Downey escaped in the first 30 seconds for a 6-5 lead, then rode out Avila in the second 30 seconds to send this rabid wrestling crowd into a frenzy.

The craziest part about this whole thing is how relaxed Downey was afterward. 

“I just went out and wrestled my match,” Downey said. “It didn’t really matter who it was against. It just happened to be against someone who had won three before.”

This is just the second time in state history that an Iowa high school senior attempting to win a fourth state wrestling title was stopped from doing so in the state finals. Just two years ago, Cascade’s Aidan Noonan beat West Sioux’s Adam Allard, 4-2, in the 1A final at 126 pounds, scoring three back points in the matches final seconds.

So in a way, yes, Downey’s victory was its own historic accomplishment, and he took the hard way to do it — rallying from a 5-0 deficit to win in the final, and also by winning arguably the toughest weight this week.

More:Our best photos from the 2022 Iowa high school state wrestling tournament

Class 3A’s 145-pound bracket featured Avila, a three-time state champ; Southeast Polk’s Joel Jesuroga, a returning state champ; Bettendorf’s Dustin Bohren, another returning champ; Waverly-Shell Rock’s Bas Diaz, a two-time Florida state champ as a middle-schooler; and well as Downey, a state finalist his sophomore year in 2020.

Downey knew all too well how tough this weight was. In December, he lost a tight match against Diaz. On Wednesday, he lost another close match to Bohren, 5-3, at state duals. He was not only ready for the challenge the traditional state tournament would provide, but openly embraced it.

After a 19-4 technical fall win in the first round, Downey beat Diaz, 5-0, in the quarterfinals on Friday morning, then downed Jesuroga, 4-3, in the semifinals by scoring a takedown with 27 seconds left and riding out to win.

“I went out there and did what I trained to do,” Downey said. “Got to my attacks, got to my ride, got to what I liked.”

Then came Saturday night’s spectacular comeback to win his first state title, the first for an Indianola wrestler since 2011, and just the 12th in school history.

As Downey walked off the mat, Indianola coach Clint Manny turned to a handful of younger Indianola fans watching mat side and smiled.

“It can happen for every one of you guys, too,” Manny said, pointing toward them with a smile. “Believe it. It can happen.”

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