On Sunday the Nebraska wrestling team hosted the visiting No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes at the Devaney Center. The Huskers won in dramatic fashion as injured senior All-American Isaiah White pinned sophomore Ethan Smith with only two seconds remaining in the match to win the dual for the Huskers 19-14. This was the Huskers’ first top-10 win of the season and a massive confidence booster for the Huskers as they head into the home stretch of Big Ten Conference play.
The Huskers won the coin toss and elected to start the dual at the 174-pound weight class with All-American No. 6 sophomore Mikey Labriola facing off against No. 7 sophomore Kaleb Romero. The match went slowly until the final seconds With the score knotted at one and only moments remaining in the match, Labriola finally got a takedown of Romero. After a video review, the ruling on the mat was confirmed and Labriola was awarded the victory by a decision of 3-1 After the conclusion of the match, the Huskers were deducted one team point for unsportsmanlike conduct, shrinking their lead to 2-0.
After the nail-biting start to the dual, All-American No. 8 junior Taylor Venz matched up against redshirt freshman Rocky Jordan. After another scoreless first period, Venz got things going with a takedown with 30 seconds remaining in the second period to take a 2-0 lead in the match. At the conclusion of the match the score was tied 2-2, but Jordan was awarded an additional point for having a riding time advantage of more than a minute, giving him the victory by a decision of 3-2, and it also gave the Buckeyes a 3-2 lead in the dual.
In the third match No. 6 junior Eric Schultz had his work cut out for him as he went up against senior Kollin Moore, the top-ranked wrestler in the country at 197 pounds. Moore came out of the gate extremely aggressive, getting two takedowns in the first 25 seconds of the match. A scoreless, but well-wrestled second period followed. Then, after a rather sluggish third period, Moore won by a decision of 5-2, extending the Buckeyes’ lead to 6-2.
When announcing lineups at the beginning of the dual, it was still undecided as to whether senior David Jensen or Christian Lance would wrestle against junior Gary Traub. Ultimately the choice was made by the staff to have Jensen wrestle Traub. Jensen won by a decision of 8-4, cutting the Buckeyes’ lead to 6-5.
“He scored some points there at the end that showed a lot of grit,” Nebraska head coach Mark Manning said.
In the 125-pound weight class, redshirt freshman Alex Thomsen took on sophomore Malik Heinselman. After a scoreless first period, Thomsen began the second period with an escape, giving him a 1-0 lead. With less than 10 seconds remaining in the second period, Heinselman got his points with a takedown, giving him a 2-1 lead. After the reset, Thomsen managed to get a reversal helping him reclaim the lead, 3-2. In the third period, Thomsen got a takedown just inside a minute remaining in the match, giving him the victory by a decision of 5-2 and helping the Huskers reclaim an 8-6 lead.
“This is my third win in a row, I’m really feeling good about where I am as a wrestler right now,” Thomsen said.
Next up was a battle of true freshmen at the 133-pound weight class between No. 13 Ridge Lovett and No. 21 Jacob Decatur. After two periods, Decatur led Lovett thanks to a takedown late in the second period. Midway through the third period, Lovett and Decatur both got takedowns, but Decatur’s takedown was overturned after a video review, leaving the match tied at 4-4. Then, with under five seconds remaining in the match, Lovett got a reversal and won the match by a decision of 6-5, sending the crowd into a frenzy. After the match, the Huskers claimed their biggest lead of the day at 11-6.
Next up for the Huskers was All-American No. 8 junior Chad Red Jr. looking to add to the Huskers’ lead and make it nearly impossible for the Buckeyes to make a comeback. Red Jr. faced senior Luke Pletcher, who is ranked No. 1 in the nation at the 141-pound weight class. Red Jr. kept up and held his own in the first period which ended in a scoreless draw, but Fletcher would go on to win the match by a major decision of 10-1, bringing the Buckeyes within one of the Huskers, 11-10.
After the tremendous performance by Fletcher, the next few matches gained far more importance, First up was No. 14 senior Collin Purinton taking on redshirt freshman Sammy Sasso, who was ranked second nationally in the 149-pound weight class. Sasso won the match by a decision of 12-4.
Hoping to keep the Huskers in a position to win the dual, No. 16 redshirt freshman Peyton Robb went up against In the first 45 seconds of the match, Robb took a 6-1 lead thanks to a takedown and a near fall and an escape from Kinner. In the second period, Robb got a reversal and another takedown, while Kinner managed another escape to make it 8-2 after two periods. Following a slower-paced third period, Robb won the match by a decision of 8-3, tying the dual at 14-14.
In a winner-take-all scenario with the score tied heading into the final match, White looked to capitalize on Robb’s victory and help the Huskers win as he took on No. 14 sophomore Ethan Smith. To start off the match, White managed a takedown that was confirmed by video review, but with 23 seconds remaining in the period, he went down with an apparent left leg injury, which was later confirmed as an ankle injury. After being treated by athletic trainers for a few minutes and discussing with Manning, White continued the match, with enormous cheers of support from the crowd.
After giving up two escapes to Smith, it was 2-2 late in the second period, when Smith got a takedown as time expired, which a video replay confirmed. Early in the third period, White got an escape to cut the lead to 4-3. Then, with a significant limp in his left leg, White got a pin of Smith after flipping him with two seconds left, winning the match and the dual for the Huskers.
“It was a tough match and he [Smith] is a great opponent, but it felt great to get the pin in front of the home crowd,” White said. “Coach said, ‘it’s not broken, you’re going to be able to walk again, go out there and finish the match.’”
“He’s really grown as a wrestler and a person, that’s what college athletics is all about and Isaiah was a perfect example of that today, we know he can be a national champion,” Manning said.
The final score was 19-14 because the Husker bench was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct, for storming the mat.
“I don’t think the coaches cared that we stormed the mat, even though we lost a point, there was just so much emotion involved, it was a great moment,” Thomsen said.
“We’ve got four duals left here in the Big Ten and you can’t take anything for granted,” Manning said. “There’s no easy route, at the end of the day it’s about these guys’ individuals matchups and being successful.”
While the Huskers will obviously continue to celebrate this excellent victory, they’ll have to shift gears quickly as they prepare for a two-game road trip against Purdue and Indiana this week.