CEDAR FALLS, Iowa - The University of Northern Iowa wrestling team knocked off #13 Oklahoma 18-15 with some inspiration from the only Olympic champion in UNI's history.
UNI remains undefeated at home for the season and against Oklahoma. The Sooners hadn't been to the West Gym since 1950. In 1988, the Panthers took its final win in the series from the Sooners, who won the next three matchups on the road. That streak ended with tonight's win.
"We keep preaching to our guys about effort," said head coach Doug Schwab. "If you keep working hard and hustling, good things will happen. It was definitely a team effort tonight."
For the second time in as many weeks, the dual's fate came down to the final match, and UNI prevailed when heavyweight Blayne Beale got a last-second takedown to beat the Sooners' Keldrick Hall and secure a team victory.
After a scoreless first period, Hall led the match 1-0 heading into the third period. Beale got an escape early in the third period and finished it with a takedown with just two seconds left on the clock.
The Panthers started the meet by dedicating the competition mat to Bill Smith, a former UNI wrestler. Smith is the United States' oldest Olympic wrestling champion, capturing the gold medal in the 160.5-pound weight class at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland.
The Panthers got off to a slow start, but once David Bonin got a win at 157 pounds, the team was nearly unstoppable. Bonin took his match into double overtime to get the Panthers on the board, 3-12.
"We got behind, and guys responded," said Schwab.
Jarrett Jensen lost to #4 Patrick "Bubby" Graham by decision in the 165-pound weight class, but momentum quickly returned to UNI's favor. The Panthers refused to give up any bonus points and got a couple of its own in the 174-pound match.
After earning stalling points, Cody Caldwell was awarded an injury forfeit over Matt Reed to pull the Panthers within six points of Oklahoma.
"He kept making that guy work, and he got him to the point that he couldn't even return to the match," said Schwab.
From there, UNI took every match away from Oklahoma. Ryan Loder, who has given up just nine points all season to opponents, added another decision to career wins at 184 pounds.
"I know he's not happy that he got any bonus points," said Schwab. "He sets out to get bonus points every time."
Loder has now outscored his opponents 81-9.
Blaize Cabell just entered the dual lineup for the Panthers last weekend and got his first win in that spot against Brad Johnson. Cabell was down heading into the third period but earned enough points to get the one-point decision over Johnson, who had accumulated riding time.
"That was a huge comeback for him," said Schwab. "I haven't seen a match like that from him in the last two years. So that is a huge confidence booster."
Oklahoma entered the dual with four guys ranked by Amateur Wrestling News. Joey Lazor, ranked 14th, faced the top wrestler in the nation at 141 pounds. Kendric Maple was the eventual winner, but Lazor kept it close, only losing by three points.
"It's hard to come back when you get down as far as he did," said Schwab. "But that should have built some confidence for Lazor that he is not that far from the top guy in the nation."
At one point, Lazor was down four points.
"I like how he competed. I don't think he conceded anything to that guy. I think he got stronger as the match went on, and he realized he could ride him," said Schwab.
The win came in front of UNI's largest crowd this season.
"The atmosphere was awesome. The crowd was incredible. It makes a difference for our guys," said Schwab. "You could see the other team was uncomfortable with the crowd on top of them."
UNI hits the road to take on Southern Illinois-Edwardsville and Northwestern noon and 2 p.m. Sunday. The Panthers will return home Jan. 27 to close out their home season against No. 7 Missouri.
FINAL RESULTS: UNI 18, OU 15
125 - Kyle Garcia (OU) dec. Ryan Jauch (UNI), 3-2; 133 - #10 Cody Brewer (OU) dec. #9 Levi Wolfensperger (UNI), 13-9; 141 - #1 Kendric Maple (OU) dec. #14 Joey Lazor (UNI), 6-3; 149 - #10 Nick Lester (OU) dec. Bart Reiter (UNI), 6-0; 157 - David Bonin (UNI) dec. #15 Matt Lester, 5-3 SV2; 165 - #4 Patrick "Bubby" Graham (OU) dec. Jarrett Jensen (UNI), 9-4; 174 - Cody Caldwell (UNI) wins by injury forfeit Matt Reed (OU); 184 - #9 Ryan Loder (UNI) dec. Nolan McBryde (OU), 9-2; 197 - Blaize Cabell (UNI) dec. Brad Johnson (OU), 10-9; 285 - Blayne Beale (UNI) dec. (OU) Keldrick Hall (OU), 3-1