Brooks Black's Pin Wins Thriller for @ILLINIWRESTLING

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By University of Illinois Athletics

CHAMPAIGN, ILL.— With their backs against the wall two different times today at Huff Hall, the Fighting Illini grapplers showed grit and determination to win a wild finish. After trailing 18-0 through four weight classes, Illinois won the next four bouts with 19 unanswered points. A northwestern pin at 197 had the Illini once again in a tight spot, trailing by 5 with only one bout remaining. However, Brooks Black answered the bell with a pin of his own to give Illinois an exhilarating 25-24 victory over the in-state rival.

“I knew if I could take him down, I could get him to that move I put him in that I did all through high school,” said Black on his match-winning pin.

Although Head Coach Jim Heffernan may not have anticipated the fashion in which his heavyweight wrestler would do it in, he said that coming through in the clutch was something that Black had mentioned to dating back to his freshman year.

“Brooks was up against,” said Heffernan. “He told me one time when he was a freshman that if the match ever came down to him, he’s going to win. That’s the first time it has {come down to Black} and he found a way to win.”

Northwestern exploded early in the match to jump out on top of Illinois early. After Francis Edelen grabbed a takedown to open the scoring, Garrison White got to work, first with a reversal and then a combo of two-point and four=point near falls to take an 8-2 lead. In the second period, White continued ride Edelen, adding two more near falls. The opening bout concluded with a another two-point near fall in the third period by White to win by tech fall, 17-2.

With Zane Richards once again unable to wrestle today (sickness), #20 Dominic Malone won by forfeit, stretching the Wildcat lead out to 11-0.

At 141 pounds, Jameson Oster of Northwestern quickly put the pressure on Mousa Jodeh with a takedown and four-point near fall in period one, followed by two near falls to double his lead. In the third period, Oster completed the major decision with an escape and takedown, accompanied by a riding time point, to win by major decision, 16-4.

The Northwestern margin swelled to 18-0 when #4 Jason Tsirtsis grinded out a decision over Kyle Langenderfer at 149-pounds. Langenderfer came in with two close decision defeats to the Northwestern red-shirt junior last season. Today’s bout took a similar course for most of the match, with each the two grapplers exchanging blows through the first period. After an exchange of escapes, Tsirtsis added a late takedown in the fifth minute of the match to enter the final period leading 5-3. Unfortunately for Langenderfer, Tsirtsis remained in control for the final two minutes, first earning an escape and then adding a take down to win, 9-3.

Much like in previous matches this season, the Orange and Blue turned the tide of the match at 157 pounds, this time with a pin from #2 Isaiah Martinez over Anthony Petrone in a mere 55 seconds. The pin was Martinez’s fourth of the season and first during Big Ten play.

With a third of a deficit evaporating in less than a minute, the Orange and Blue looked to #4 Steven Rodrigues to use that momentum. The Illini senior got to work early with three takedowns in the first period. After Luke Norland of Northwestern slowed Rodrigues in the second period, allowing just one takedown, Steven got back to his offense with another takedown in period three to seal a major decision.

With the Huff Hall crowd coming to life after 10 Illini points in just two bouts, #2 Zac Brunson put his own hand print on the charge. Brunson began his scoring with a takedown of Mitch Sliga, and then propelled Sliga onto his shoulders for a four-point near fall. After a quiet one-point escape in the second frame, Brunson got back to work with his second four-point near fall of the match. A riding time point finalized the 12-0 major decision for the Eugene, Oregon native, and brought Illinois to within just four points of the Wildcats. For Brunson, it was his fourth shutout of the season and his second in Big Ten duals.

Needing a major decision to tie and a technical fall to take the lead, Coach Heffernan looked to red-shirt senior #15 Jeff Koepke to complete the comeback. Wildcat Regis Deurbin hung tough early on with a takedown to take a 2-0 lead, and then remained within a 5-3 count after three minutes. However, Jeff Koepke found his grove in period two, netting four takedowns coupled with a four-point near fall. With Koepke looking for the tech fall to put the Illini in front for the first time all day, there was a controversy with 1:25 remaining in period three regarding the score. After initially calling Koepke the victor by technical fall, the officials reviewed the action and deemed Koepke to still be two points shy of the 15 points needed for a tech fall. When action resumed, the Illini senior showed determination with two takedowns in the final minute to seal the five-point victory for the Orange and Blue.

“With Zane {Richards} battling an illness and others feeling sluggish at Nebraska, and even yesterday in practice we weren’t really on, but guys found a way,” said Heffernan. “Their strength is down low; our strength is up high against these guys. Anything they did down low, we had to find a way to match it. It went pretty much as planned until about 16 seconds left at 197 {pounds}.”

With the Illini leading by only a point, Andre Lee and Jocob Berkowitz went toe-to-toe for the first six minutes. Lee led the Northwestern red-shirt junior 5-4 entering the final two minutes, but surrendered two takedowns, while only giving up the two escape points. Bad went turned to worse as Berkowitz got Lee’s shoulders on the mat and held him down for the count, earning a 6:35 pin to turn the tables on the Illini.

“Well first, Andre {Lee} shouldn’t have been in that position, over-under that late in the match, but the bottom line is he looked like he stumbled and fell on his back,” explained Heffernan. “He’s has to be a little smarter than that, and shouldn’t be in that position or situation with 16 seconds left in the match.”

The match concluded at heavyweight with Illinois’ back once against up against the wall. Brooks Black was tasked with the duty of getting a technical fall to tie or a pin to win, and the red-shirt sophomore responded just as he had promised Coach Heffernan when he first came to Illinois.

“The thing that was in the back of my mind, was my freshman red-shirt year when I told Coach Heffernan that if a match came down to me, I’d win it for him,” explained Black. “So, when I went out there, I said to myself ‘remember what you told [Coach Heffernan’}.”

Black started the first period off with a takedown to lead 2-0, and continued to ride Northwestern’s Conan Jennings. With a little over a minute remaining in the opening period, Black advanced his position over Jennings to move his opponent’s shoulders towards the mat. The two heavyweights struggled as the Huff Hall crowd rose to it’s feet. With the Illini bench roaring with the motivation, Black got Jennings shoulders fully on the mat and the official counted Jennings out to give Black his third pin of the season, and Illinois a thrilling 25-24 victory over Northwestern.

“I think [the win} is a confidence booster,” said Black. “Just knowing that if I get to my offense, I can take guys down like I did against Jennings. I have to carry this momentum into my training this week and into Friday against Minnesota.”

Up Next:

The Fighting Illini host #17 Minnesota on Friday night as part of Senior Night. The match begins at 7 p.m. at Huff Hall, with seniors being honored prior to the match.

“Minnesota is always good, they’re always in great shape, and they’re always technically sound,” explained Coach Heffernan. “They don’t make poor decisions, so we in turn can’t make poor decisions. We can’t allow them to win matches at the end like we did today.”

For complete coverage on the team, visit fightingillini.com and follow @IlliniWrestling on Twitter.

#12 Illinois 25, Northwestern 24
125: Garrison White (NU) tech fall Francis Edelen (ILL), 17-2 | 0-5
133: #20 Dominick Malone (NU) wins by forfeit | 0-11
141: Jameson Oster (NU) major dec. Mousa Jodeh (ILL), 16-4 | 0-15
149: #4 Jason Tsirtsis (NU) dec. Kyle Langenderfer (ILL), 9-3 | 0-18
157: #2 Isaiah Martinez (ILL) fall Anthony Petrone (NU), 0:55 | 6-18
165: #4 Steven Rodrigues (ILL) major dec. Luke Norland (NU),12-3 | 10-18
174: #2 Zac Brunson (ILL) major dec. Mitch Sliga (NU), 12-0 | 14-18
184: #15 Jeff Koepke (ILL) tech fall Regis Durbin (NU), 24-9 | 19-18
197: Jacob Berkowitz (NU) fall Andre Lee (ILL), 6:35 | 19-24
HWT: #20 Brooks Black (ILL) fall Conan Jennings (NU), 1:53 | 25-24