Tonight will either be good or great for Elkhorn Valley.
Three of four wrestlers won semifinal matches Friday to pull into second place in Class D. Amherst, the six-time defending team champion, still leads 97-78.5 heading into the final day at the CenturyLink Center.
The Falcons have previously won two individual championships and have never finished in the top three as a team.
“Hopefully we’ll end up with a plaque,” senior Noah Rutjens said.
Rutjens (42-3) kept the Falcons in contention for the biggest plaque with a 5-4 win against Amherst’s Kalen Klingelhoefer at 160 pounds. Rutjens scored the winning takedown with one second remaining.
“Really?” he said shaking his head. “I knew it was short time. I got extremely lucky.”
Rutjens’ takedown with 37 seconds remaining put him ahead 3-2, but he was quickly penalized for an illegal move. Rutjens, sixth in two other state appearances, agreed with the call.
“I had his leg trapped and I kept it up there for too long,” he said.
That tied the match, and then Rutjens let Klingelhoefer go rather than try to hang on for overtime. It was a gamble that nearly backfired.
“That’s like getting kicked in the stomach,” Amherst coach Tyler Herman said. “We had our chances, but (Rutjens) is extremely strong. We win that match and we’ve got a more comfortable lead.”
Rutjens will face Zemua Baptista (43-0) of Friend in the final.
Elkhorn Valley’s Alejandro Martinez’s near-fall in the second period was the winning margin in his 3-2 win against Drew Goosic of Franklin at 113.
“I don’t even work on that move in practice, I just saw it,” Matinez said.
A green-clad cheering section roared after Martinez (26-2) won. The attention is a blessing and a curse.
“It’s exciting but it also scares me. The crowd has a lot of expectations,” Martinez said.
Martinez, who finished fourth last season, will face Dominique Rickard (29-2) of Plainview on Saturday.
Chris Petersen (42-3) was the third Elkhorn Valley wrestler to advance, overcoming an apparent right shoulder injury to beat Skyler Ratkovec of East Butler at 170. He will face Jacob Klingelhoefer of Amherst (44-4) in a final replete with team race significance.
Amherst had lost three semifinal matches before Jacob Klingelhoefer’s pin. Dane Bogard (39-6) followed at 195 with a 2-1 win against Jesse Wells of Friend. Bogard, a junior, did not qualify for state a year ago.
“We qualified 13 out of our 14 kids last year. He was the one that stayed home,” Herman said.
Amherst has won the past six Class D state titles. It has also won at least one individual title in each year since 2008, and has 49 total.
Burwell is in third place with 68 points followed by Sutton (61), Plainview (60), Creighton (57) and North Platte St. Patrick’s (56.5).
Elkhorn Valley would need everything to fall into place to win the team race. It would need to win virtually every match — championship and consolation — and hope Amherst goes winless.
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