Unbeaten Wildcats spring past Illini
EVANSTON, Ill. -- In a showdown of ranked interstate rivals, No. 18 Northwestern sped to an 18-3 lead over No. 14 Illinois after five matches before the visitors won three consecutive matches to pull within five. That's when NU junior John Schoen (197) rallied from what was a 7-5 deficit with under a minute remaining to pin Mario Gonzalez and send the `Cats on their way to an exciting 27-13 victory Friday in Welsh-Ryan Arena.
With the victory, which was televised live on Big Ten Network, Northwestern remained unbeaten on the season under the direction of first-year head coach Drew Pariano, who has 14 dual wins in 14 tries this year and has his squad off to a 2-0 start in the Big Ten.
"This is a team that wrestles for bonus points," Pariano said after the match. "That's a huge difference from last year to this year. If you're the aggressor in 90 percent of the match, you expect to win and you deserve to win, and I think (John Schoen's match) was one of those things where justice was served for once. I'm pleased with how we represented ourselves in front of a great crowd tonight."
After seeing that impressive 15-point intermission lead slashed to five, Schoen and Gonzalez squared off in what was expected to be a close match. Schoen trailed 2-1 after one period, but continually pushed the pace in the second and was awarded a stalling point after a Gonzalez takedown had given the Illini a 4-2 lead.
A third Gonzalez takedown on the edge of the mat put Schoen in a 7-5 hole but, following another stalling penalty on Gonzalez, Schoen finally finished a shot and drove Gonzalez to his back. Gonzalez was injured on the takedown, but the officials granted Schoen the pin and six points for Northwestern to give the Wildcats an insurmountable lead.
"My whole thing this year has been to up the pace of my matches and get back to being the man on offense," Schoen said. "Drew, Timmy (Cysewski) and (Matt) Storniolo have our team really well conditioned so we can win in the third period and overtime. I should have wrestled better earlier in the match but it's because of my shape where I'm going to keep going because I want to win that match."
Schoen is now 15-5 overall in his redshirt junior campaign.
Schoen's classmate Ben Kuhar followed that thrilling match with a solid 3-1 victory over Illinois' Pat Walker to send the Wildcat faithful in attendance home on a high note.
At the outset of the dual, No. 1-ranked 125-pounder Brandon Precin got Northwestern off to a fast start, collecting three near-fall points in the first period and going on to hold a 7-0 lead after two periods. He poured it on in the third with another set of back points, finishing just shy of a technical fall with a 15-1 major decision.
NU's Levi Mele battled seventh-ranked B.J. Futrell at 133 pounds and wrestled hard but was unable to stave off three Futrell takedowns in the first period. Mele couldn't generate any offense down the stretch, suffering his first dual setback of the season in an 8-3 loss.
Friedley then took to the mat at 141 pounds against Daryl Thomas, who was filling in for injured Illinois starter and third-ranked Jimmy Kennedy. Friedley pounced to a 4-0 lead just moments into the second when he brought Thomas to his back, pancaking him for the fall at the 3:23 mark and giving the 'Cats a 10-3 lead.
That brought up the matchup of two top-15 competitors in NU's No. 13 Andrew Nadhir and Illinois' No. 12 Eric Terrazas, who had edged Nadhir in tiebreakers at the 2010 Midlands Championships. Nadhir picked up the first takedown early on and, after allowing Terrazas to score only on escapes, won the match with an escape in the third. Nadhir, 22-2 this year, repeatedly evaded surrendering a two after Terrazas was in on a leg to help him win the 3-2 decision.
Ninth-ranked Jason Welch had no difficulty with U of I's Jackson Morse, reaching the 17-2 technical fall win thanks to a riding time point added at the match's conclusion.
After the break, Chicagoland native Conrad Polz claimed a win at 165 pounds, defeating Kevin Bialka by 17-6 major decision. That brought up NU junior Robert Kellogg wrestling up a weight at 174, who was able to start the third trailing Ben Friedl 4-3 thanks to a key reversal at the end of the second. After a Friedl escape, Kellogg notched a takedown with 45 seconds remaining but could not find the final score he needed to overcome Friedl's riding time advantage in a 7-5 decision.
Northwestern's Aaron Jones lost an 8-4 decision at 184 pounds to Illinois' Tony Dallago, setting up the dramatic win by Schoen at 197.