Wrestling may not be the most popular sport at Northwestern, but it’s arguably the most exciting one. The No. 20 Wildcats (7-2, 2-1 B1G) lost to 18th-ranked Nebraska (4-3, 2-1 B1G) 19-18 on a tiebreaker in an evening full of drama Friday night.
The final match of the night between Northwestern’s Mitch Sliga and Nebraska’s Taylor Venz decided the outcome. The 184-pound weight class clash was not as high paced as some of the previous matches were, but the tension in the room made the crowd hold their breath every time a takedown attempt was made. In the second period, Sliga escaped Ventz’s hold to earn the first point in the match. The Northwestern fans and teammates erupted with cheers as Northwestern looked like they might pull off a win in the dramatic meet. Ventz, however, kept fighting and in the final minute he dove at the legs of Sliga in desperation and took Sliga down to earn two points. Sliga desperately tried to break free to earn a point and tie the match, but Ventz remained in control and ran out the clock to give Nebraska the win and tie the match at 18-18. The meet started with a very exciting matchup between Northwestern’s Zack Chakonis and Nebraska’s Eric Schultz. Chakonis lead for most of the duel but Schultz seemed to tie it with in the final seconds with a takedown. However, Northwestern coach Matt Storniolo threw the challenge brick. (Yes, the challenge brick. When a coach wants to challenge something, they throw a brick into the middle of the ring.)
Upon further review, Schultz's move was illegal and Northwestern won the 197-weight class. There was an strong show of emotion from both sides that set the tone for an emotional and hard fought rest of the night.
Things looked very good for Northwestern when they won the next two matches to take a commanding 10-0 lead. Nebraska had a quick response though, with a quick two wins to cut the Northwestern lead down to only 10-7. The teams then traded wins until the meet score was 14-0 Northwestern, with three weight classes left.
One of Nebraska’s top wrestlers, Isaiah White, stepped onto the mat to face Northwestern’s Michael Sepke, and White thoroughly dominated Sepke. White would take Sepke down for two points, let Sepke get up and give him one point just so White could take Sepke down again for another two. The one-sided matchup ended 22-6 in favor of White, a margin of victory so large that it classified as a technical fall and gave Nebraska 5 points rather than the typical three for a normal decision. Nebraska then led 15-14.
In the second-to-last weight class, Northwestern’s Johnny Sebastian wrestled Beau Breske. Sebastian controlled most of the match, but knew that winning by eight points would give Northwestern four team points, rather than three. It looked as if Sebastian was going to only win by six points, but in the final seconds he got a hold of Breske’s leg and took Breske down to win the final two points and earn a major decision by a score of 11-3. The Northwestern bench and coaching staff jumped out of their seats, pumped their fists and yelled in excitement when the referee lifted two fingers indicating the decisive points of the match. Northwestern led 18-15.
Ventz then tied the meet with a win in the final match, so the scorers went to tiebreaker criteria to determine the winner. The two teams were tied in pins and matches won, so it went to the third criteria, total points. Nebraska led that category 68-66, giving them a tiebreaker point.
Northwestern’s next meet is January 28 at Minnesota (5-2, 2-1 B1G).