By Jason Bryant
Give Brad Penrith credit. He made a smart decision to move Northern Iowa’s final home dual of the season over to West Gym.
It’s hallowed ground in Cedar Falls, site of the 1950 NCAA Championship won by Northern Iowa, then known as Iowa State Teachers College. The setting was fitting for seniors Alex Dolly, Andrew Anderson and Moza Fay as the host Panthers topped UT-Chattanooga 18-12 on Saturday afternoon on Senior Day.
“We talked about possibly moving it into the West Gym,” said Penrith. “This group of guys came in when the McLeod Center wasn’t here.
“It’s also [district tournament] week here in Iowa, so let’s be honest, we knew it would be a smaller crowd.”
While the attendance of 325 isn’t going to raise any eyebrows nationwide, the throwback atmosphere at West Gym was perfect for the posturing by Penrith, a former Iowa Hawkeye, and Chattanooga coach Chris Bono, a former Iowa State Cyclone.
Bono, active in the corner, saw his squad jump out to a 9-3 after four matches. When Bono jumped, the sound reverberated off the wooden floor. Echoes were abundant as both coaches barked throughout the dual.
Anderson won his final home match beating Ethan Winel 5-3 at 197 pounds before true freshman Cody Sliger edged Dustin Bauman 3-1 in sudden victory at heavyweight. Demetrius “Bucky” Johnson followed with a scrappy 9-6 victory over Cruse Aarhus at 125 before Josh Statum topped Steven Fitzgerald at 133 pounds.
Chattanooga, fresh off a 37-6 loss the previous night to second-ranked Iowa State, looked in a position to upend Penrith’s 21st-ranked team going into 141 pounds.
But it didn’t turn out that way as Trenton Washington used a slick heelpick to drop returning All-American Cody Cleveland to the mat and then drove across, putting the Moc to his back, nearly pinning him in the first period.
Cleveland’s view of the West Gym ceiling was unobstructed for over a minute before bellying out trailing 5-0. In the second, Cleveland rallied, turning Washington in the second period after choosing top, cutting the score to 5-3. Washington was hit for his third caution, one of 13 cautions in the dual called by official Mike Exline, and cut the match to 5-4. Washington got free in the third to go up 6-4 and that’s how it would end.
Washington’s hand fighting was superior, keeping Cleveland’s advances at bay and coming dangerously close to scoring another takedown on another heel pick.
“(Chattanooga) came to wrestle,” said Penrith. “They won those three matches in a row and then we won at 141 and maybe took the wind out of their sails.”
Trevor Kittleson gave up an early takedown, but rebounded to score a 6-2 decision at 149. Joey Knox put Chattanooga up 12-9 with a 2-1 decision over Tyson Reiner at 157.
Reiner nearly stole the match away with a double leg on the restart with three seconds to go, but the buzzer sounded just before Reiner gained full control.
Fay looked to get a fall early and put UNI in a commanding lead after 165, but had to settle for a 10-3 decision.
“I know Moza worked pretty hard,” said Penrith. “He had that (cradle) tied up pretty tight. I have to give credit to Seth Garvin, he fought hard. Moza had it tight. You could see the veins sticking out of both guys’ arms, they were fighting hard.”
Jarion Beets came up big, avenging a loss earlier this season to Jason McCroskey at 174 pounds to put UNI up 15-12 going into Dolly’s final match with an 11-5 decision.
“(Beets) was big,” said Penright. “I went back and talked to him and said ‘I want an honest answer, is your conditioning ready? Are you ready for this match’. I said you’re in. He was going even at the end of the match. That’s a big step for him.”
“Beets is surprising that he isn’t ranked by any of the publications,” said a quizzical Penrith. “He’s got a lot of wins. He was out with a concussion and we got him his 14th match. He came out and wrestled well against a kid that beat him before.”
Dolly dashed all hopes of a Moc upset with an 8-3 win over Tyler Robertson at 184.
Typically a match between two conference leading programs might draw added attention, but Bono’s squad has one senior in the starting lineup, while UNI hasn’t been at full strength for much of the season.
“We’d like to have won the dual, but we’ll take a lot out of it and get ready for our conference,” said Bono.
“Last night, we were outmatched,” added Bono. “This is more where we are, not to down UNI, because they have some starters out, but we’re happy we caught them at the right time. We’re close to getting these freshman to their match potential. Their improvement has been awesome.”
Even with the low light in West Gym, both squads came away with bright moments.
For Bono, it was his young Mocs perseverance.
“They’re battling, they’re trying,” said Bono. “Their effort is there.
I’ve got a backup 125 out there at 133 fighting and winning matches; Cody Cleveland, you know, we’ve gotta get him back on track, but he’ll be dangerous at the national tournament. We kinda forced him to wrestle tonight, because we knew it was a close match. If it was any other match, we probably wouldn’t have wrestled him.
“It’ll just make him better and we’ll get ready for the national tournament,” he said. “Having a competitive match like this, it’s good for you,” said Penrith. “Going into South Dakota State and North Dakota State, they have some individuals we’re going to have to battle with. It’s huge for the conference.”
And for Penrith, he’s happy the way Dolly, Fay and Anderson capped off their last home dual.
“This is a great environment; a historic facility,” said Penrith. “Our guys are comfortable here with out weight room, our wrestling room, our locker rooms all right here. It was great to send those guys out with victories.”
No. 21 Northern Iowa 18, UT-Chattanooga 12
197- Andrew Anderson (Northern Iowa) dec. Ethan Winel (UT-Chattanooga) 5-3.
285- Cody Sliger (UT-Chattanooga) dec. Dustin Bauman (Northern Iowa) 3-1, SV
125- Demetrius Johnson (UT-Chattanooga) dec. Cruse Aarhus (Northern Iowa) 9-6.
133- Josh Statum (UT-Chattanooga) dec. Steven Fitzgerald (Northern Iowa) 6-2.
141- Trenton Washington (Northern Iowa) dec. Cody Cleveland (UT-Chattanooga) 6-4.
149- Trevor Kittleson (Northern Iowa) dec. Kelly Felix (UT-Chattanooga) 6-2.
157- Joey Knox (UT-Chattanooga) dec. Tyson Reiner (Northern Iowa) 2-1.
165- Moza Fay (Northern Iowa) dec. Seth Garvin (UT-Chattanooga) 10-3.
174- Jarion Beets (Northern Iowa) dec. Jason McCroskey (UT-Chattanooga) 11-5.
184- Alex Dolly (Northern Iowa) dec. Tyler Robertson (UT-Chattanooga) 8-3.