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Photo courtesy of Iowa Wrestling

By JARED BELL
Illinois Matmen

Sammy Brooks never panicked.

There was no need to. Turns out, he was more than OK.

Down 2-1 in the third period of Friday’s quarterfinal match against Illinois’s Emery Parker at the NCAA Championships at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, the 184-pound redshirt senior at Iowa battled for position and appeared to be in trouble.

However, with an arm around Parker’s neck and on one leg, Brooks swung to his right, fell to the mat and took Parker with him as Brooks held on to the headlock, landed on his back but flipped over to his chest to land in a perfect pinning position that gave the Oak Park-River Forest graduate the fall at 6:01.

“You just have to stay cool and keep wrestling,” Brooks said. “If you start panicking then your opponent is going to feel it and make an adjustment, so you have to stay cool and keep wrestling.”

That’s exactly what Brooks did as his sudden move propelled him into the semifinals.

“I just went with it,” Brooks said of the move. “It comes down to feel. I’ve been wrestling my whole life and I’m not sure I’ve ever hit something like that in a real match, but I’m sure I have in practice.”

With the win, the No. 3-seeded Brooks (27-2) will meet No. 2-seeded Penn State’s Bo Nickal (24-1) in Friday night’s semifinals, which will be broadcast on ESPN starting at 7 p.m.

The two did not meet in last weekend’s Big Ten Conference Tournament after Nickal was upset in the semifinals – Nickal’s only loss of the season – but Nickal did pin Brooks in the Big Ten dual on Jan. 20.

“I just have to wrestle, stay where I’m good and let the rest play out however it goes,” Brooks said.

So far in his first three matches, it’s gone pretty well.

After Brooks won by 7-3 decision in the first round over Rutgers’ Nicholas Gravina, the three-time NCAA qualifier prevailed by fall at 3:44 in the second round against Edinboro’s Dakota Geer.

Facing fellow Illinois native Parker – a Warren graduate – in the quarterfinals, Brooks took a 1-0 lead with a second-period escape, but Parker scored a takedown and worked for the turn. Brooks fought it off and trailed 2-1 entering the final period.

In the third, Parker worked for control midway through when Brooks made his sudden move to win.

“It feels good to get this win,” Brooks said. “Hats off to my opponent. He came to wrestle because this is the NCAAs. This is where it’s at and that’s why you get the best wrestlers and the craziest moments.”

Following his win, Brooks – who placed eighth at last year’s NCAA Championships – let loose a roar and then shadow boxed with his coaches Tom and Terry Brands.

“That’s why you do it,” Brooks said of the Brands’ reaction. “It’s so fun getting those two little maniacs screaming. It’s great because I’ve had it go the other way, too. You don’t want to let those two guys down.”

While Brooks remained calm and confident on the mat, he joked the same is not usually the case with his mom, who paced the arena during his match.

“She goes all around so people can’t hear her go crazy,” Brooks said. “She tries to get as far away from everybody as possible.”

Getting away from tonight’s match may be tough to miss, though, as Brooks – a three-time state medalist and a two-time state champion – is just one win away from wrestling for his first national title.

“I have a good amount of people here, and I can’t thank them enough for all their support,” Brooks said. “If I can win for them and me, it’d be great.”

Jared Bell can be reached at (815) 220-6938. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.