Last-gasp pin by Sam Stoll rescues Iowa against Illinois in Big Ten wrestling opener

Seventh-ranked Hawkeyes (6-0, 1-0 Big Ten) trailed, 17-9, with two weights to go

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IOWA CITY — Sam Stoll admitted it afterward.

He was dumbfounded.

The University of Iowa junior heavyweight walked to the wrestling mat against Illinois junior Deuce Rachal as the last hope for the seventh-ranked Hawkeyes.

With Iowa trailing Illinois, 17-12, one had to figure Rachal would hold on as long as possible, play it safe and eliminate any chance for Stoll to score bonus points.

Rachal went another way.

“I kind of figured he was going to try and throw me the first time we locked up,” said Stoll, who pinned Rachal 2:02 into the first period for a thrilling 18-17 Iowa victory over No. 15 Illinois Friday night in a Big Ten wrestling opener. “Usually you kind of get in that position with guys, they’re really strong but really they just want to hold and not move. I think I could tell right away that that guy, he was going to try and throw me. Dumb move by him.”

As Stoll (5-0) drove Rachal away from the center of the mat and to his back, the Carver-Hawkeye Arena crowd of 8,206 immediately leapt to their feet in anticipation of a team victory that seemed unlikely just moments before.

“The guy kind of put himself to his back, probably wasn’t the brightest thing,” Stoll said. “It’s pretty well known that I am pretty good in the body lock. … I thought he would at least make me work.”

Stoll’s heroics rescued an uneven performance throughout the Iowa lineup. Illinois (1-2, 0-1 Big Ten) notched five combined first-period takedowns and scored decisions at 125, 133 and 141 for a 9-0 lead.

“You can talk about, ‘Well, you’ve got to be ready to go,’ but you also have to realize from afar, you have to realize what is happening with strategy,” Iowa Coach Tom Brands said. “There is strategy there. The things that come out of my emotions, the endorphins. … they have to raise your urgency and that did not happen. It’s like, ‘We’ve got all day out there.’”

Iowa (6-0, 1-0) got on the scoreboard behind returning All-Americans Brandon Sorensen (149) and Michael Kemerer (157). Both won decisions that pulled the Hawkeyes within 9-6 at the break.

Two-time NCAA champion Isaiah Martinez pushed the Illini lead to 14-6 with a 24-8 technical fall over Iowa redshirt freshman Kaleb Young.

174-pound Iowa sophomore Joey Gunther won his fifth match in a row, 6-1, over Illinois freshman David Riojas. In a seemingly-crucial swing match, Iowa junior Mitch Bowman surrendered a takedown midway through the third period of a 5-3 loss to 12th-ranked Emery Parker.

Iowa trailed, 17-9, with two weights to go.

“Those guys were athletic and points were hard to come by,” Brands said. “But that is not where we should be struggling. … These guys were holding points from us, but they were scoring, too.”

Returning NCAA qualifier Cash Wilcke gave the crowd life with an overtime takedown in a 3-1 decision against Illinois junior Andre Lee that cut the deficit to 17-12.

“You can’t really let the team score and that kind of stuff affect what you’ve got to do,” Wilcke said.

Up stepped Stoll.

“I’m out there to do my job,” said Stoll, who missed all or part of the postseason in each of the last two seasons due to injury. “I know if I wrestle a hard pace for seven minutes, I can pin a lot of guys. No one wants to wrestle a hard, high pace. If I go out there and take care of what I need to do, everything will fall into place.”

Iowa will not return to Carver-Hawkeye Arena until Jan. 5 against Michigan State. Up next are a pair of Big Ten road duals in three days against No. 11 Rutgers (Dec. 8) and Maryland (Dec. 10), which is receiving votes in the latest coaches poll.

“We’ve got to be ready to go,” Brands said.


No. 7 Iowa 18, No. 15 Illinois 17

125 — No. 13 Travis Piotrowski (Ill.) dec. Justin Stickley (Iowa), 7-4; 133 — No. 20 Dylan Duncan (Ill.) dec. No. 18 Phillip Laux (Iowa), 6-1; 141 — Mike Carr (Ill.) dec. Vince Turk (Iowa), 7-5; 149 — No. 2 Brandon Sorensen (Iowa) dec. No. 20 Eric Barone (Ill.), 4-1; 157 — No. 3 Michael Kemerer (Iowa) dec. No. 17 Kyle Langenderfer (Ill.), 4-1; 165 — No. 2 Isaiah Martinez (Illinois) tech. fall No. 16 Kaleb Young, 24-8; 174 — Joey Gunther (Iowa) dec. David Riojas (Ill.), 6-1; 184 — No. 12 Emery Parker (Illinois) dec. Mitch Bowman, 5-3; 197 — No. 10 Cash Wilcke (Iowa) dec. Andre Lee (Illinois), 3-1 (SV1); 285 — No. 7 Sam Stoll pins Deuce Rachel, 2:02.

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