After climbing all the way back from an 11-0 deficit on Sunday afternoon, No. 21 Northwestern Wrestling (3-5, 1-4 B1G) suffered a difficult defeat in the meet’s final match to fall 19-18 against No. 15 Illinois (7-3, 4-2 B1G). After a decisive 5-0 win from No. 12 Lucas Davison in the 197 lb. class put Northwestern up 18-15, Illinois true freshman Luke Luffman produced a dominant major decision win over the Wildcats’ Jack Heyob, clinching the match for the Illini.
Heyob came into the decisive match with an 0-9 record; however, he held his own for the first half of the match. The first period produced a lot of hand fighting but no points by either wrestler. Upon urging from Illini coach Jim Heffernan, Luffman wrestled more aggressively in the second and third periods, resulting in several takedowns of Heyob to which Heyob and coach Matt Storniolo had no response.
There is no doubt that the beginning of Big Ten play has been disappointing for the Wildcats, and has exposed their lack of depth compared to the top tier of the conference. While Ryan Deakin, Davison can be consistently counted on to win matches in dual meets, Northwestern has struggled to win their lightweight and heavyweight matchups, resulting in multiple closely contested losses. However, the back end of their schedule is very manageable - the Wildcats should be favorites against Michigan State, Rutgers, Maryland and SIU-Edwardsville, and they have the opportunity for a resume-boosting upset at Ohio State.
The Illini jumped out to a hot start, earning two decisions and one technical fall, the latter suffered by junior Dylan Utterback at the 133 lb. class, to take an 11-0 lead. The fun began at the 149 lb. class, when No. 16 Yahya Thomas earned a hard fought 2-1 decision over Mousa Jodeh. Subsequently, the team’s crown jewel, No. 1 Ryan Deakin, got NU right back into the meet with this fall to cut the team deficit to two:
Then, in perhaps the best match of the night at the 165 lb. class, No. 18 Shayne Oster eeked out a win over No. 15 Dan Braunagel, 7-6, to give Northwestern their first team lead. Oster was particularly adept at sprawling out to defend against Braunagel’s attacks, garnering escapes and back points to walk away with a huge win.
Tyler Moreland extended the NU lead with an impressive 2-0 decision over No. 22 Joey Gunther in the 174 lb. class. Moreland utilized a slower style of play and used riding time to his advantage. Unfortunately, the Northwestern lead disappeared after a dominant 13-2 major decision for No. 13 Zac Braunagel over Jack Jessen. Finally, Davison’s strong 5-0 decision over Illinois’ Matt Wrobleski in the 197 set the stage for the exciting finish. Davison garnered two takedowns and an escape in the win.
Storniolo’s squad is back in action next Friday night at 7 p.m. for senior night and the home finale against Michigan State (6-8, 1-6 B1G).