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Wrestlers squeak past Gophers for Big Ten dual meet title

BY SAM LOUWAGIE | FEBRUARY 21, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Hawkeyes, after jumping out to a quick 9-0 lead on Sunday in Minneapolis, dropped four of the next five weight classes — the last two in dramatic, fall-from-ahead fashion — and saw their lead slashed to a single point. In order to preserve a 77-match unbeaten streak and win a fourth-straight Big Ten regular-season title, one of Iowa’s last two wrestlers had to pull off an upset.

Which, as it turned out, wasn’t a problem for either of them.

Senior Luke Lofthouse, ranked eighth in the nation by Intermat, dealt a critical blow to Minnesota’s comeback hopes by scoring five third-period points and beating No. 4 Sonny Yohn, 7-4. Junior heavyweight Blake Rasing wrapped things up with an upset of No. 8 Tony Nelson.

“We had some disappointing losses right before the 197 match,” Matt McDonough said. “But it’s great to have a senior step out onto the mat in that situation. He’s been there, done that, so I felt really confident. Hats off to [Lofthouse and Rasing].”

Lofthouse said he wasn’t thinking about the situation, saying he was more concerned with how to set up his offense.

“You really can’t focus on those things,” he said. “I was thinking about where I needed to be and how I needed to push the pace and keep attacking.”

Lofthouse admitted, however, that it can be difficult to block the pressure out and acknowledged that the victory was perhaps his biggest of the season.

Early on, the dual meet didn’t look headed toward such a close finish. Comfortable victories for McDonough over fifth-ranked Zach Sanders and Tony Ramos over David Thorn opened the match.

Then Montell Marion wrestled his second-straight thriller against a top-two opponent, this time scoring an escape with one second remaining for a 4-3 win over No. 2 Mike Thorn.

But then things began to fall apart for Iowa.

Only Derek St. John’s 20-8 major decision separated four Hawkeye losses. Mark Ballweg suffered a 5-3 sudden-victory loss. Senior Aaron Janssen gave up three second-period near-fall points that proved too much to recover from in a 6-4 loss.

And those were the easy losses to swallow.

Both redshirt freshman Ethen Lofthouse and sophomore Grant Gambrall had 3-0 leads with riding time in their matches. Lofthouse gave up two third-period takedowns, the second to his back, and lost, 7-4. Gambrall also was taken down twice late to drop a 5-4 decision.

But Lofthouse erased a 3-0 deficit of his own to stop the bleeding for Iowa, earning a reversal, an escape, and two takedowns for the win.

The Hawkeyes wrapped up the regular season with a conference dual title that was far from a given before the season. Both Penn State and Minnesota began the year with higher rankings than the Iowa.

“You’ve got to feel pretty good about what we’ve done so far,” McDonough said. “But the end of the year is when you’ve got to wrestle your best, and we’ve got a 10-day period now in which we’ve got to do some serious work.”


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