LINCOLN — Minnesota's top-ranked wrestling team built a 15-0 lead and then scraped out wins in four close matches at the end to beat ninth-ranked Nebraska 27-7 Friday at the NU Coliseum.
If the tight closing matches had gone the Huskers' way, the final score would have gone their way. But “what ifs” don't count.
“The key to a match like this is you have to win the close ones,” Minnesota coach J Robinson said. “Our guys did a good job of that.”
By the time NU sophomore Jake Sueflohn, ranked 13th nationally, defeated Seth Lange at 149 pounds, the Huskers had dropped four straight matches to four ranked Gophers and trailed 15-0.
Sueflohn's 7-4 win over Lange made the team score 15-4. Then at 157 pounds, No. 6 James Green — Nebraska's top-ranked wrestler — made it 15-7 with a 13-9 win over Brad Dolezal, an unranked Gopher who had gone 12-1 in his last 13 matches.
The next match at 165 pounds, a potential third straight victory for NU, got the Coliseum crowd of 1,869 to its feet. The fan frenzy was fueled by the aggressive style of NU redshirt freshman Austin Wilson from Hastings St. Cecilia, who was denied a takedown in the closing seconds that would have forced overtime with ninth-ranked Cody Yohn.
Wilson lost 8-6 in the thriller.
“I think the country is going to know who Austin Wilson is very soon,” NU assistant Bryan Snyder said.
Wilson was coming after Yohn at every opportunity.
“He's a tough, hard-nosed kid,” Snyder said. “He was pretty close to getting the last takedown.”
Wilson's loss was the first of four straight for the Huskers that were within two points. The close calls left the Huskers with some positive thoughts, even though the margin of the team loss was significant.
One of the close matches was at 174 pounds, where NU sophomore Robert Kokesh was up against an old high school opponent, Logan Storley. Storley is ranked fifth in the country and Kokesh seventh. The first period ended 0-0, the second 1-0 in favor of Storley and the third 1-1 to force a sudden victory overtime. Storley scored a quick takedown to end the match at 3-1.
Some Huskers took encouragement from the close matches against a team that some consider the best in the country.
“This was an early benchmark,” Snyder said. “I'm convinced we can get to that level by March.”
Sueflohn, a sophomore from Watertown, Wis., remained undefeated for the year. Green ran his record to 8-0.
Sueflohn said the Huskers had hoped to capture a few of the close matches.
“We are a point or two from getting those,” he said. “I think we can beat them.”
Robinson said the match was good for his team, which finished second nationally last year and returns all but two of its starting wrestlers.
“Nebraska is a good, solid team,” he said.
He said the Gophers got a break when a draw determined that the match would start with the heavyweight bout.
That meant the first four matches pitted highly ranked Minnesota wrestlers against unranked Nebraskans. Tony Nelson, last year's national champion and No. 1 so far this year, came first with an 11-3 decision over NU heavyweight Donny Longendyke. The next three Gophers at 125 pounds, 133 pounds and 141 pounds are all ranked in the top 10 nationally.
The Gophers were voted No. 1 in the preseason national coaches poll and lead a powerful Big Ten Conference that landed six teams in the top 10 and four in the top five.
The victory by Minnesota's Nelson increased his winning streak to 31 going back to last season. He was 32-2 last year and is ranked No. 1.
Nebraska is now 2-1 following road victories over Northern Colorado and Wyoming. The Huskers will host North Carolina (noon) and South Dakota State (2 p.m.) on Sunday at the Coliseum.
Individual results: Hwt: Tony Nelson, UM, dec. Donny Longendyke, NU, 11-2. 125: David Thorn, UM, dec. Eric Coufal, NU, 14-3. 133: Chris Dardanes, UM, dec. Shawn Nagel, NU, 12-5. 141: Nick Dardanes, UM, dec. over Skylar Galloway, NU, 11-2. 149: No. 13 Jake Sueflohn, NU, dec. over Seth Lange, UM, 14-5. 157: No. 5 James Green, NU, dec. over Brad Dolezal, UM, 14-9. 165: No. 9 Cody Yohn, UM, dec. over Austin Wilson, NU, 8-6. 174 : No. 5 Logan Storley, UM, sudden victory over No. 7 Robert Kokesh, NU, 3-1. 184: No. 4 Kevin Steinhaus, UM, dec. over No. 6 Josh Ihnen, NU, 3-1. 197: No. 12 Scott Schiller, UM, dec. over Caleb Kolb, NU, 3-1.
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