By NIU Athletics
BUFFALO, N.Y. – The Northern Illinois University wrestling team nearly overcame an 18-0 deficit on Sunday afternoon in Mid-American Conference action before ultimately suffering a 20-16 dual defeat at Buffalo at UB’s Alumni Arena.
The Huskies (6-9, 1-6 MAC) started slowly against the Bulls (10-8, 2-5 MAC) and dropped into an 18-point hole before NIU rallied to win five consecutive individual matches, meaning the dual came down to the contest at 184 pounds. With a victory either way securing the team win, Joe Ariola of Buffalo was able to earn a 6-1 decision over Quinton Rosser (Cincinnati, Ohio/Archbishop Moeller) in that final matchup.
Starting at 197 pounds, the dual began in the worst possible fashion for the Huskies as Shawn Scott (Holly, Mich./Holly) attempted an early takedown of James Benjamin, got caught in a scramble and found himself pinned in the first period, which gave the Bulls an immediate 6-0 lead.
Two narrow victories at 285 and 125 pounds for Buffalo were followed by an NIU forfeit at 133 pounds, which brought the team score to 18-0 through four scheduled matches.
Facing one of its largest deficits of the season, NIU never gave up.
No. 15 Steve Bleise (Chelsea, Mich./Chelsea) got things rolling for the Huskies at 141 pounds with the 24th victory of the season for the 15th-ranked 141-pounder in the country, earning a 10-7 decision over Brandon Lapi in an entertaining and edgy matchup. Both teams were penalized one team point after the hotly contested contest.
Then at 149 and 157 pounds, NIU brothers Gabe Morse and Andrew Morse (Alto, Mich./Lowell) really swung momentum in favor of the Huskies. Gabe earned a 7-3 victory over Colt Cotton, and Andrew put bonus points on the board with his 9-0 major decision shutout of Alex Smythe to bring the team score to 17-9.
Still needing to run the table to pull off a remarkable comeback, Shaun’Qae McMurtry (Lockport, Ill./Nebraska) and Trace Engelkes (Winnebago, Ill./Winnebago) kept NIU alive with individual victories at 165 and 174 pounds. McMurtry edged a 7-4 decision over Rrok Ndokaj, while Engelkes scored a 12-4 major decision with several takedowns to leave the team score at 17-16 with one match remaining.
However, despite his best efforts and some close calls on takedown attempts, Rosser was unable to complete the NIU comeback in the team score, falling to Ariola 6-1 in the final match of the dual.
After the thrilling dual, NIU wrestling head coach Ryan Ludwig was already looking forward to next week’s MAC regular season finale against Old Dominion on Friday at 6:30 p.m. CT and the postseason beyond that.
“We will adapt and make improvements as we continue pursuing our ultimate goals in the postseason,” Ludwig said on Sunday evening, highlight NIU’s goal of excelling in the upcoming MAC Championships at Eastern Michigan on March 5-6 with the aim on qualifying as many wrestlers as possible for the NCAA Championships at Madison Square Garden in New York City from March 17-19.
Buffalo 20, NIU 16
197: James Benjamin (UB) won by fall over #17 Shawn Scott (NIU), 2:12
285: Jake Gunning (UB) won by decision over Arthur Bunce (NIU), 5-3
125: Kyle Akins (UB) won by sudden victory over Alijah Jeffery (NIU), 8-6
133: Bryan Lantry (UB) won by forfeit, 6-0
141: #15 Steve Bleise (NIU) won by decision over Brandon Lapi (UB), 10-7
149: Gabe Morse (NIU) won by decision over Colt Cotton (UB), 7-3
157: Andrew Morse (NIU) won by major decision over Alex Smythe (UB), 9-0
165: Shaun’Qae McMurtry (NIU) won decision over Rrok Ndokaj (UB), 7-4
174: Trace Engelkes (NIU) won by major decision over Tyler Rill (UB), 12-4
184: Joe Ariola (UB) won by decision over Quinton Rosser (NIU), 6-1