Lightweight Hawkeye remains the national-title favorite


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At the moment when most Hawkeye wrestling fans gritted their teeth and held their breath, long before the weight of the entire Iowa-Penn State dual fell on the shoulders of heavyweight Bobby Telford, 125-pounder Matt McDonough nearly lost.

Fewer than 20 seconds remained in the third period between No. 1 McDonough and his Blue and White opponent, second-ranked Nico Megaludis. With the score knotted at 1, the Nittany Lion dropped to a head-inside single-leg shot. McDonough immediately reached for Megaludis’s ankle.

A scramble ensued, with the Hawkeye falling forward — Megaludis noticed and began to crawl out the back to try for the bout-winning takedown. McDonough continued to keep his head up and his hands firmly on the ankle. It was his only way out.

Fortunately for McDonough — and the Black and Gold faithful, at that — the referee blew his whistle. Megaludis wasn’t awarded a takedown, and the match went into overtime.

“I don’t think of it as dodging bullets as much as it’s just being stingy and not letting the guy gets what he wants on you,” McDonough said. “You have to be strict about not making mistakes and giving up points that you shouldn’t give up.”

After a scoreless minute in the first overtime, McDonough rode out Megaludis for 30 seconds in the first half of double overtime and escaped with four seconds remaining in the second half of the extra period to win the match, 2-1.

This was the opening match in what ended up being an upset victory for the Hawkeyes, who beat Penn State Feb. 1, 22-16. But the victory for McDonough served as a statement to the rest of the nation’s 125-pounders — a statement that said Iowa’s 125-pound grappler is still the one to beat come March.

“There was some toughness,” Iowa head wrestling coach Tom Brands said. “Look at that match. Either guy there [could’ve won]. We really had to pull something out. That’s pretty gutsy.”

McDonough is well known for ripping through his opponents and scoring bonus-point victories, serving as a spark for the Iowa wrestling team as the usual leadoff man. This season, however, has seen a small decline in such performances.

The fifth-year senior has just 6 bonus-point victories in 14 matches this season, compared with 10 through the first 14 matches from a year ago — six of those ended with McDonough earning the fall.
“I’m going out there, and I’m trying everything I can to get that dual started off on the right note,” McDonough said on Jan. 29. “Some of my matches, I haven’t been able to get to the guy like people may think.”

But in a dual filled with marquee matchups — McDonough and Megaludis served as the headline bout — starting off with a strong, statement victory can be huge for a team. McDonough was able to get the job done and pumped his fists and clapped with the sold-out Carver-Hawkeye crowd.

“It was real big,” Iowa 133-pounder Tony Ramos said. “You don’t want to be fighting back from down 16-3 or 16-6 — whatever [Penn State] was down. It puts pressure on the upper weights when they have to battle back for the team points.”

McDonough’s escape came after he was able to pry Megaludis’s hands off his right leg. In that moment, the split-second when 15,000 wrestling fans jumped out of their arena seats in jubilation, lay the apt metaphor that describes the rivalry: Megaludis has closed the gap between him and McDonough compared with their last match — McDonough beat Megaludis, 4-1, in regulation for the 2012 NCAA title.

And McDonough isn’t scared of that fact. At all.

“You have to expect them to get tougher, but you know what, I’m getting tougher too,” McDonough said. “That’s what you do to if you want to be the best. You have to get three times better when everyone else is getting twice as good. That’s the only way to stay ahead.”

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