Takedown with 12 Seconds Left Seals 6-4 Decision
By University of Illinois Athletics
New York City, N.Y. — In “the most famous arena in the world,” Isaiah Martinez (32-1) won a match for the ages, a constant battle, that resulted in the Illini redshirt sophomore winning his second NCAA Championship in as many seasons. With the match tied 4-4 and fewer than 20 seconds left in regulation, Martinez drove into No. 2 Jason Nolf (33-2), for a takedown with 12 seconds left to repeat as champion. Martinez’s national championship is the 24th in Fighting Illini wrestling history, and he is the third Illini to repeat as national champion. Moreover, it’s the 15thtime in Illinois history, and second for Martinez, that an Illini has won both the Big Ten and NCAA titles in the same season.
“Wow,” exhaled Martinez. “I’m extremely pleased just with the win, especially against a competitor like that. He’s definitely special. And he gave me a hell of a fight. I just knew if it came down to the end, I was going to get it done. And looked up at the clock with, maybe 20 seconds to go. Coach is screaming, go get one. And I said I need to do this right now to seal up the match. And thank God I got my head through the hold, got enough to get the takedown.”
After splitting their previous two meetings, the style of tonight’s rubber match proved to resemble that of the first meeting, a match that was wrestled at a fast pace with both grapplers taking shots at one another. However, tonight it was Martinez who was the aggressor over the course of the seven-minute bout.
Martinez set the tone early in the bout with a quick takedown to put Nolf on his heels. However, the Penn State freshman regained his composure and used an escape and a takedown to forge ahead, 3-2. As the first period came to a close, Martinez escaped the grasps of Nolf to knot the score at 3-3 after three minutes of action.
“I was just trusting in my athleticism,” said Martinez. “The hip-over position, that barrel roll on my hand like side car wheel, it’s something I’ve been doing since I was real young. So I have a lot of confidence in that position. Even if it looks like I’m going to my back, I feel like I have really good core strength, so I’m able to pull myself over so that’s how I got out. I missed the first one. He almost put me on my back when the game got away with ten seconds to go. We’ve been doing that since I was young.”
After a Martinez escape to start period two, he and Nolf settled in, each wrestle staging attacks, but failing to land anything. The same remained true for most of the third period, save for an opening escape by Nolf, to send the grapplers headed for overtime like they did at Big Ten Championships two weeks ago. With both grapplers having their endurance tested, Martinez maintained his aggressiveness as the period neared its close. With 20 seconds left, his coaches gave him the green light to take one last shot at Nolf. Sensing Nolf was wearing down, Martinez attempted to duck under Nolf and drive through, a move that hadn’t worked previously in the match.
“That duck, it works better when guys are chasing me and they’re tired,” explained Martinez. “So he was really coming after me, elbows open. I pulled on one side and went to that side I pulled on, he fell right down on his face and I just covered him. So it’s kind of harder to get at the beginning of the match. It’s more of a duck step and lift. But as the match progresses the guy gets a little more worn out. It’s a duck, guy falls on his face, I just cover.”
Martinez’s move proved victorious as he drove through Nolf and took him to the mat for the takedown with just 12 ticks left on the clock. Martinez then rode out the Nittany Lion for the remaining 10 seconds to seal his title.
“The way he was driving into me, I just felt it,” said Martinez. “I think my coaches saw this: When it got to about 30 seconds to go I was towards the out-of-bounds line, and I really started picking my hand up, digging inside, pulling, pulling, and digging. And as the clock started ticking down, he was reaching because I was slapping his hands down real hard. And I just felt it right away, pulled it and ducked. I was confident that if we went to overtime I was ready. I was prepared. My lungs felt good. My body felt good.”
This season’s title comes on the heels of his undefeated (35-0) season last year, the first by a freshman since, now Penn State Head Coach, Cael Sanderson completed the feat in 1999 at Iowa State. In the time since, Martinez has had to overcome multiple obstacles on his way to defending his title. First, Martinez dealt with the loss of his father right as the season was about to commence. Later into the season, the Illini grappler was riding a 54-match winning streak when he got pinned by Jason Nolf at Huff Hall on January 23. In the time between that match and Big Ten Championships, Martinez and coaches admitted he was caught up in the loss and let him get away from what got him there.
“It feels good,” said Martinez. “Just dealing with all the adversity, I mean, Mark talked about this a lot and my coaches talk about it a lot, they know just kind of what I had to go through. It wasn’t just the loss of my father. There were a lot of things that happened this year that were bumps in the road. I try not to disclose those things too much because I don’t like making excuses for myself. But it was tough this year. It was hard dealing with a lot of adversity. But I’m glad I stuck with it and got the job done this year.”
As arguably the most successful Illinois wrestler through their first two seasons, Martinez (67-1) has already won back-to-back Big Ten and NCAA Championships. Last season, Martinez was named Big Ten, Intermat and Amateur Wrestling Freshman of the Year.
As a team, Coach Heffernan’s squad saw the team score the 10th-most points (50.5) at Big Ten Championships in Illinois history. The 50.5 points tied Michigan for ninth-place, the best finish for Illinois since 2012-13 and second most with Heffernan at the helm.
The Orange & Blue were spearheaded by three All-Americans, Isaiah Martinez, Zane Richards, and Steven Rodrigues. The three All-Americans tie for the most since Coach Heffernan led four wrestlers on to the podium in 2012.
Complete Illini Results:
133: #3 Zane Richards
Champ. Round 1: won by decision over Joey Palmer (ORST), 5-4
Champ. Round 2: won by decision over #14 Geoffrey Alexander (MD), 9-5
Quarterfinals: won by major decision over #6 George DiCamillo (UVA),12-4
Semifinals: lost by decision to #2 Cory Clark (Iowa), 4-3
Cons. Semifinal: won by decision over #5 Jordan Conaway (Penn State),3-2
3rd-Place Match: loses by decision to #4 Cody Brewer (OU), 9-4
Zane Richards Places 4th
157: #1 Isaiah Martinez
Champ. Round 1: won by tech fall over Robert Henderson (UNC), 16-0
Champ. Round 2: won by major decision over #16 Markus Scheidel (COLU), 15-4
Quarterfinals: won by decision over #8 Nick Brascetta (VT), 6-3
Semifinals: won by decision over #4 Ian Miller (Kent State), 7-5 (SV-1)
Championship: won by decision over #3 Jason Nolf (Penn State), 6-4
Isaiah Martinez Places 1st
165: #6 Steven Rodrigues
Champ. Round 1: won by decision over George Pickett (CORN), 5-2
Champ. Round 2: won by decision over Geno Morelli (PSU), 3-1 (SV-2)
Quarterfinals: lost by major decision to #3 Bo Jordan (Ohio State), 10-2
Cons. Round 4: won by decision over #8 Chad Welch (PUR), 4-2
Cons. Round 5: won by decision over #10 Austin Wilson (NEB), 3-1 (SV-1)
Cons. Semifinal: lost by fall to #4 Daniel Lewsi (MIZ), 3:50
5th-Place Match: won by decision over David McFadden (VT), 8-5
Steven Rodrigues Places 5th
174: #5 Zac Brunson
Champ. Round 1: won by decision over Keaton Subjeck (STAN), 3-1
Champ Round 2: lost by major decision to #12 Nathan Jackson (IND), 10-1
Cons. Round 2: won by decision over Nick Wanzek (Minnesota), 9-2
Cons. Round 3: lost by decision to #3 Blaise Butler (Missouri), 3-1
Zac Brunson eliminated
184: Jeff Koepke
Champ. Round 1: loses by major decision to Domenic Abounader (MICH), 8-0
Cons. Round 1: won by decision over Samson Imonode (Army), 6-5
Cons. Round 2: won by decision over Joe Ariola (Buffalo), 2-1
Cons. Round 3: lost by decision to #6 Blake Stauffer (ASU), 5-3 (SV-1)
Jeff Koepke eliminated
HWT: Brooks Black
Champ. Round 1: wins by decision over #6 Denzel Dejournette (APP), 7-2
Champ. Round 2: wins by decision over Boyce Cornwell (GW), 4-3 (2OT)
Quarterfinals: lost by decision to #3 Ty Walz (Virginia Tech), 4-1
Cons. Round 4: lost by decision to #9 Michael Kroells (MINN), 4-2
Brooks Black eliminated
1. Penn State 123.0
2. Oklahoma St. 97.5
3. Ohio St. 86.0
4. Virginia Tech 82.0
5. Iowa 81.0
6. Missouri 74.5
7. Cornell 67.0
8. Nebraska 58.0
9. ILLINOIS 50.5
9. Michigan 50.5