By NIU Athletics
DeKALB, Ill. — The Northern Illinois University wrestling team put a scare in No. 5 Missouri on Sunday afternoon at Victor E. Court as the Huskies won four matches and still had a shot to pull the upset in the final contests, but the Tigers eventually secured an undefeated regular season in the Mid-American Conference with a 26-14 dual win.
The Huskies (6-8, 1-5 MAC) fell behind 16-4 after three matches but rallied to pull within 19-14 with two matches remaining, which meant NIU only needed two decision wins to complete perhaps the biggest upset of the season in college wrestling. However, the Tigers (12-1, 8-0 MAC) eked out the win by narrowly winning the ninth contest of the afternoon as No. 3 Lavion Mayes beat Gabe Morse (Alto, Mich./Lowell) 5-4 with a last-second escape point at 149 pounds.
NIU wrestling head coach Ryan Ludwig head coach praised his team after the dual and highlighted the performance of redshirt freshman 133-pounder Austin Eicher (Fenton, Mich./Hartland), who defeated No. 10 Zach Synon in the second sudden victory period by 5-3 decision in the match of the day.
“We just wrestled the best team in the MAC and went down to the wire with them,” Ludwig said. “We know we can compete with any team in the country. We had some very tight matches against ranked opponents. Austin Eicher was a huge bright spot for us by knocking off a nationally ranked opponent. He’s been knocking on the door for a few weeks now, so we were happy to see him get rewarded.”
The Huskies signaled their intent to challenge the Tigers right away as the dual started at 165 pounds. Shaun’Qae McMurtry (Lockport, Ill./Nebraska) took a 15-5 major decision over Matt Lemanowicz to give NIU an early 4-0 lead.
But the Tigers, who have only lost two MAC duals since joining the conference in 2012, responded with two quick pins at 174 and 184 pounds and a major decision at 197 pounds by national title contender J’den Cox, giving Missouri a 16-4 advantage after four matches.
Arthur Bunce (Munith, Mich./Dansville) then handed the Huskies some momentum heading into the intermission with a dominant 6-0 win over James Romero in the NIU senior heavyweight’s final match competing as a Huskie in DeKalb.
Missouri regained its 12-point lead with a decision at 125 pounds as No. 11 Barlow McGhee survived a battle with NIU freshman 125-pounder Alijah Jeffery (Marion, Iowa/Linn-Mar).
Then Austin Eicher pulled off the result of the day, downing the country’s 10th-ranked 133-pounder in a fiercely competitive match. Eicher and Synon traded points throughout regulation and two tiebreaker overtime periods before the NIU redshirt freshman completed the winning move on the edge of the mat late in the second sudden victory period to win 5-3.
Sensing that the Huskies still had a chance to pull off something special, Steve Bleise (Chelsea, Mich./Chelsea) followed that up with a 15-4 major decision at 141 pounds as NIU’s nationally ranked 141-pounder scored bonus points for the home team.
With the team score then at 19-14, NIU only needed to win the final two matches of the evening to shock Missouri and the collegiate wrestling world. That exact scenario looked very possible when Gabe Morse, controlling the match in the final minute of action, scored a late takedown on No. 3 and undefeated 149-pound opponent Lavion Mayes to tie the contest at 4-4. But Mayes was able to sneak out of Morse’s hold and tally an escape point that secured the match and the team dual victory for the Tigers.
NIU’s other senior wrestling for the final time competitively in DeKalb, Andrew Morse (Alto, Mich./Lowell) then completed the day’s action in a well-contested battle with LeRoy Barnes of Missouri.
Looking stronger each match, the Huskies hope to continue to strengthen as they travel to Buffalo next Sunday for a dual contest against the Bulls at 1 p.m. ET/12 p.m. CT.
No. 5 Missouri 26, NIU 14
165: Shaun’Qae McMurtry (NIU) maj. dec. Matt Lemanowicz (Mizz), 15-5
174: #7 Blaise Butler (Mizz) pins Trace Engelkes (NIU), 1:53
184: Cody Johnston (Mizz) pins Quinton Rosser (NIU), 3:51
197: #2 J’den Cox (Mizz) maj. dec. #16 Shawn Scott (NIU), 15-1
285: Arthur Bunce (NIU) dec. James Romero (Mizz), 6-0
125: #11 Barlow McGhee (Mizz) dec. Alijah Jeffery (NIU), 8-5
133: Austin Eicher (NIU) dec. #10 Zach Synon (Mizz), 5-3 (SV2)
141: #15 Steve Bleise (NIU) maj. dec. Nick Nasenbeny (MIzz), 15-4
149: #3 Lavion Mayes (Mizz) dec. Gabe Morse (NIU), 5-4
157: LeRoy Barnes (Mizz) maj. dec. Andrew Morse (NIU), 11-2