Wrestling vs. North Carolina 11.17

Nebraska’s Mikey Labriola (red) wrestles against his opponent during their match against North Carolina at the Bob Devaney Sports Center on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

$1 ticket night did not disappoint for Nebraska wrestling on Wednesday night, creating a raucous environment for a massive early-season test for the Huskers. 

Wrestling fans showed up to Devaney Sports Center eager to secure one-dollar tickets and drinks. They also showed up for what would be an incredible performance from Husker wrestling, the defeat of a former national champion and a 27-6 win over the North Carolina Tar Heels.

It started as a somewhat somber evening, as former Nebraska wrestler Christian Miller was honored after the second bout. Nov. 5th marked one year since Miller’s tragic death.

However, the atmosphere didn’t stay subdued for long.

The Huskers jumped out to an early 3-0 lead as Nebraska senior Liam Cronin defeated North Carolina freshman Spencer Moore in the 125 pound bout. It was a stalemate through the first period, but Cronin pulled out the win on regular decision 3-1.

The biggest stories of the night were back to back upsets, the first coming from Nebraska sophomore Ridge Lovett.  

Nebraska fell down 6-3 after losing two straight, but Lovett refused to let the deficit remain any longer. As an underdog in the 149-pound matchup, he defeated Tar Heel senior Zach Sherman. Lovett secured the 4-3 victory thanks to a powerful takedown early in the first period. 

When time expired, he pumped his fists in the air, overcome with excitement. The crowd on-hand loved it, rising to its feet to congratulate him. 

After the match, Lovett acknowledged the energy of the crowd. 

“These fans mean everything, I love being a part of Husker nation,” Lovett said post-match. “The athletic culture that they’ve built here is great and it’s just awesome to be a part of and keep going”

Sophomore Payton Robb followed up Lovett’s impressive performance with another. 

Robb squared off against defending NCAA champion North Carolina senior Austin O’Connor. Despite O’Connor’s accolades, Robb had no trouble pulling off the upset. After getting a takedown in the final seconds of the first period, Robb never looked back. He pulled away in the third, with an escape and a quick takedown to go up 5-1. 

The Husker crowd stayed on their feet for the final minutes of the bout, and went wild when the final buzzer sounded, securing Robb the 5-2 victory. This gave the team a 9-6 lead. 

Nebraska head coach Mark Manning had high praise for Robb after the match. 

“We didn’t expect anything different from that, we knew he could beat O’Connor,” Manning said post-match. “This guy is special. He wrestled well, he wrestled with great composure and confidence.”

When asked about the impact of the crowd on his wrestlers, Manning noted that his team and the crowd have a mutual relationship and essentially feed off of each other.

“The crowd doesn’t energize [the team], they energize the crowd,” Manning said. 

After those two wins, the Huskers didn’t take their foot off the gas. 

Seniors Taylor Venz and Eric Schultz both secured huge wins on major decisions, 15-2 and 16-3 respectively. 

Nebraska freshman Bubba Wilson and junior Mikey Labriola both held off late pushes by their opponents, and senior heavyweight Christian Lance finished off the night with a 16-6 win.

Perhaps the only cause for concern after a spectacular evening from Husker wrestling, was the performance of senior Chad Red Jr., one of the team’s most impactful wrestlers.

Red Jr. lost in overtime 3-1 to North Carolina senior Kizhan Clarke at 141 pounds, and was visibly frustrated after. 

Manning wasn’t too concerned, though, stating that Red Jr. simply “didn’t cut his weight right.”

After the loss from Red Jr., the Huskers didn’t lose another bout, finishing with seven wins in a row. 

Overall, Wednesday was an incredible night for the team and its fans. The No. 15 Tar Heels were no match for the Huskers, who came to the mat with immense energy and passion behind a spirited home crowd en-route to a 27-6 victory. 

Next up, the Huskers travel to Brookings, South Dakota for the Daktronics Open on Nov. 21.