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Iowa uses big points early start to bury the Gophers.

Unexpected pins* are a killer.  There's no bigger wildcard in a wrestling dual and nothing that can cut the brake lines on a carefully constructed gameplan faster.  A year ago, Minnesota used a surprise pin from Sam Brancale over Thomas Gilman in the dual's first match to shock Iowa and open up a quick 6-0 lead.  That left the Hawkeyes scrambling to catch up for the remainder of the dual, which they were unable to do.  This year, #1 Iowa used a surprise pin from Nick Moore over Brandon Kingsley in the dual's first match to jolt #2 Minnesota and open up a quick 6-0 lead. That left the Gophers in a deep hole from the get-go, a hole they never came close to escaping from, and led to Iowa winning comfortably, 23-12, in the season's biggest dual meet, a much-hyped clash between the two top-ranked teams in college wrestling

* Yes, pins are rarely "expected."  But in some situations they're more likely than others.  No one would have been surprised to see Dylan Ness pin Mike Kelly or last night, nor would they have been that stunned to see Thomas Gilman pin Ethan Lizak.

The circumstances of those dual-opening pins weren't identical, of course.  Brancale's win was at least a 9-point swing for the Gophers last year -- Iowa expected at least a decision win from Gilman at that spot, so giving up a pin instead was a huge turnaround.  I doubt many Minnesota fans expected a win over Moore -- especially when Brandon Kingsley stepped onto the mat instead of regular starter Nick Wanzek -- but they were probably hopeful that he could at least keep the loss to a decision.  (Kingsley did start off the match well with an early takedown, but the match was 2-2 when Moore scored the takedown that ultimately led to the fall and even if Kingsley had been able ot fight off the fall, he likely would have been in a deep hole after the takedown and nearfall points were assessed.) But Kingsley couldn't and that put Minnesota in a bad spot from the get-go.

I put the full sequence up on YouTube here, too.

Kingsley's failure put even more pressure on Logan Storley to win at 174.  That was a weight that Minnesota thought they had a good chance to win -- and a match that they needed to win if they were going to have any real hope of winning the dual meet.  The match itself was essentially 7 minutes of nothing, capped off with one wild flurry in sudden victory.  Neither Evans nor Storley attempted much of anything before sudden victory, perhaps aware of each other's ability to score off counters.  Evans got the win on a takedown in sudden victory, though not without controversy.  Evans spotted an opening, took his first truly good shot of the night, and finished explosively, planting Storley on his butt... except Storley kept rolling through almost immediately upon contact with the mat and came out in a good position of his own, seemingly about to pin Evans -- or at least score nearfall points of his own.  The call on the mat was that Evans had gotten the takedown before Storley's roll-through, and in sudden victory that meant the match was over and the action after that point was irrelevant.  The officials went to video replay and, well, you can decide for yourself:

That's an incredibly difficult call to make.  You can certainly make the argument that Evans gets the takedown when he puts Storley on his butt on the mat... but if you wanted to argue that Evans doesn't have full control and that Storley rolls through into a controlling position of his own almost immediately upon hitting the mat. I think Evans got the takedown first... but I'm hardly an impartial observer, either.  Ultimately, I can see why the officials ended up going with the initial call (Evans takedown); I don't think there's any incontrovertible video evidence to reverse the call.

184 was another match where the Gophers thought they had a chance to win... but it ended up being much closer to bonus points for Iowa than a win for Minnesota.  Brett Pfarr did start brightly, with an early takedown (after a protracted sequence where Brooks hopped around on one leg), but Brooks responded well and had little trouble getting to Pfarr's legs throughout the match and finishing several takedowns.  A few of the takedown calls were a bit controversial, but on balance Brooks looked like the far better wrestler and was a deserved winner at 13-7.  Minnesota finally broke their drought at 197, where Scott Schiller continued his undefeated record against Nathan Burak.  This was another close match between the two, with little action between the two for the first 6:50 of the match.  But a late shot by Schiller resulted in a match-winning takedown right as time expired.  It was a cruel way to lose for Burak, but... live by the last-second takedown, die by the last-second takedown.  He needs to be more aggressive about creating scoring opportunities for himself earlier in the match.

Iowa added another win at 285 with Bobby Telford knocking off Michael Kroells.  Telford got a pair of easy-looking takedowns, one each in the first and second period, and added on an escape and a riding time point as well.  Telford got a bit sloppy near the edge in the first period -- and Kroells had some quick reactions -- in giving up a reversal which made the match a bit closer than it needed to be.  Kroells never came close to scoring on Telford from his feet, though.

The second half of the dual featured more wins for Minnesota (3 out of the final 5 matches), but not enough to overcome the 15-3 deficit they found themselves in after the first half of the dual.  Gilman made the odds of a Gopher comeback extremely small after a dominant 23-7 technical fall win at 125.  Gilman was the man on the wrong end of that unexpected pin last year and he looked like a man very determined to avenge that result this year.  Gilman worked an absolute clinic on Ethan Lizak, working a variety of shots and throws to completely dominate the Gopher. He had five takedowns in the second period alone and Lizak looked like he wanted to melt into the mat after that period.

The Dardanes Boyz added back-to-back wins for Minnesota at 133 and 141 and looked impressive in doing so.  Both of the Dardanes are remarkably big for their weights (it's perhaps not surprising to remember that they wrestled at 141 and 149 last year) and very, very strong (the Dardanes Boyz look like they never, ever, ever miss a curl day during workouts).  Dziewa in particular had a lot of problems with Nick Dardanes' strength and got absolutely ragdolled around the mat at times (most notably on a blast double at the end of the second period).  Jeva's best plan of attack in a potential rematch is likely to lean heavily on his quickness and his funk; he's not going to beat Dardanes straight up.  Cory Clark's match with Chris Dardanes was closer -- he gave up one hard-fought takedown in the first period and another off a sloppy sequence in the third, but he didn't look as overpowered as Dziewa did.  Unfortunately, Clark never looked all that close to scoring on Dardanes, either -- he needs to commit to a few more shots in a rematch.  Dardanes is not a cardio powerhouse, so Clark's best plan of attack might be to push the pace hard and try to make it a high-scoring match.

Brandon Sorensen added Iowa's last points of the dual meet at 149, with a perfunctory 4-0 win.  After a scoreless first period, Sorensen rode Jake Short for the entire second period.  He was never particularly close to scoring nearfall points or putting Short in danger, but it was an effective ride.  The Minnesota fans around me groused about it; I can only assume they somehow missed watching Tony Nelson for the previous four years.  Sorensen added a quick escape and a late takedown at the whistle to get this four points.  Not the most impressive-looking win he's had this season, certainly, but it did the job.

The meet ended with 157 and, somewhat surprisingly, the most entertaining and back-and-forth match of the night.  It's easy to see why Minnesota would have wanted the sequence of matches that they had last night  -- they hoped that Storley, Schiller, and perhaps Pfarr could grab some points off Iowa early, keeping the Gophers within striking distance for the Dardanes Boyz to grab a few more wins and then hand it over to Ness to finish off the dual and cap off a win.  So long as they were within six points of a win at that point, Ness would have had a shot -- lord knows he has the ability to stick guys at a moment's notice.  Last night was also Senior Night for the Gophers and there's an obvious appeal in letting your most decorated senior get the main event.  Nothing worked out as planned for MInnesota, though -- Iowa entered 157 with a 23-9 lead, reducing Ness' match to an exhibition, essentially.  And Iowa -- Mike Kelly, specifically -- damn near ruined that by doing the unthinkable and upsetting Ness.

Ness started sluggishly, leading my viewing companion (WhiteSpeedReceiver) and me to wonder if Ness was injured (perhaps in that wild early scramble with Kelly) or dealing with an illness.  (The BTN announcers also speculated that Ness was ignoring takedown attempts and just focusing on big moves and trying to get the fall, which also seems plausible.) Kelly sensed weakness and pounced, grabbing two takedowns in the first period and leaving the period with a 4-1 lead.    (It was a trip to watch to Ness wrestle surrounded by Minnesota fans, too; they get excited about every move he makes, thinking a pin could be coming at any moment.  In fairness, they're not exactly wrong about that.)

Kelly came out on top in a scramble against Ness (words I never expected to type) and grabbed another takedown to open up a 6-3 lead.   Ness then went basic and used a simple double leg to get a takedown of his own and make the score 6-5 shortly after that. Kelly got an escape moments before the whistle to open up a 7-5 lead through two periods. Ness rode Kelly for a minute in the third period, then gave up an escape via intentional release after a dodgy potentially dangerous call.  And then things went bonkers.  Ness used a big bearhug to get a takedown and a couple of quick back points. Kelly was almost able to get a reversal before Ness took him back to the mat, wrenched him over for a few more back points... BUT WAIT.  The officials went to video replay one last time and determined that Ness should have been dinged for locked hands before the end of the match.  Roll back those last few points!  Roll back the clock! Alas, the finish of the match was an anticlimax after that -- Ness simply rode out Kelly for the final 25 seconds and ended up with the win after all.  While he lost, this was was still a strong performance by Kelly -- it was encouraging to see him hang with a top guy after getting blown out in matches against Isaiah Martinez earlier in the season.

A win from Kelly would have made this a magnificent cherry on top, but this was still a strong performance from Iowa and a very good win.  Iowa started fast, won the matches they should have won, grabbed one of the toss-up weights (174), and picked up big bonus points at two weights (165, 125).  That's what they needed to do to win the dual.  We may get to see if they can execute that same gameplan again a month from now -- it would hardly be a surprise if these teams met again at the NWCA National Duals.  Even if Iowa and Minnesota don't meet up there, you can bank on seeing some individual rematches from Iowa and Minnesota at the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments.

But for now all that matters is that Iowa is the winner again for the 71st time in 100 tries against Minnesota... and the belt is back!

A few other thoughts from being at The Barn live:

* It was a very good crowd -- over 13,000 folks in attendance.  Unsurprisingly, Iowa was very well represented -- I'd guess there were at least 3-4000 Iowa fans there.  The Minnesota fans were in full voice at the beginning of the dual, but they quieted down quickly after Iowa's fast start.  Schiller's last-second win, the Dardanes wins, and the Ness win gave them something to cheer about, though.

* Wrestling fans everywhere want more stalling to be called by referees.  Minnesota fans were every bit as quick as Iowa fans in Carver-Hawkeye Arena to get frustrated with a lack of action and want more stall calls.  The referees continue to be stingy with stall calls because... reasons.

* The scoreboard operator seemed confused about who Minnesota was wrestling last night.


#1 IOWA 23, #2 MINNESOTA 12

165: #7 Nick Moore FALL (4:27) UN Brandon Kingsley (IOWA 6-0)
174: #2
Mike Evans DEC (3-1 SV) #4 Logan Storley (IOWA 9-0)
184: #8
Sammy Brooks DEC (13-7) #11 Brett Pfarr (IOWA 12-0)
197: #6
Scott Schiller DEC (3-1) #4 Nathan Burak (IOWA 12-3)
285: #2
Bobby Telford DEC (6-4) #13 Michael Kroells (IOWA 15-3)
125: #5
Thomas Gilman TECH FALL (23-7) UN Ethan Lizak (IOWA 20-3)
133: #1
Chris Dardanes DEC (5-3) #5 Cory Clark (IOWA 20-6)
141: #4
Nick Dardanes DEC (7-3) #5 Josh Dziewa (IOWA 20-9)
149: #2
Brandon Sorensen DEC (4-0) UN Jake Short (IOWA 23-9)
157: #1
Dylan Ness DEC (11-9) #15 Mike Kelly (IOWA 23-12)

NEXT: Iowa returns to action next Friday night against unranked Maryland (5-12, 0-6 in the Big Ten).  The meet will be streamed on BTN Plus ($).