Scott Schiller entered his bout with Illinois’ Mario Gonzalez at 197 pounds as the underdog with his Gophers squad trailing 14-12 on Monday at the Sports Pavilion.
A win would put the Gophers in front by one point with heavyweight Tony Nelson waiting to close out the team dual.
Schiller said he was aware of the circumstances, but that he tried to stick to his game plan.
Good strategy, Scott.
Schiller won his match, giving Minnesota its first lead of the night. The No. 3 Gophers held on to win 18-14 against No. 5 Illinois as Nelson took care of business in the final match.
“I knew [Gonzalez] was ranked ahead of me, but that stuff doesn’t run through my head when I go out there to wrestle,” Schiller said.
Minnesota assistant coach Brandon Eggum was especially impressed with Schiller’s performance.
“We knew what [Schiller] was capable of doing,” Eggum said. “It was huge for our team.”
Eggum has said all season that his upper weights are the strength of his lineup, and he proved it Monday.
Minnesota dug itself an early hole with pivotal losses at 133 and 149 pounds, but the upper weights took control after intermission and cleaned up the mess.
The Gophers were favored at both 133 and 149 pounds but failed to score any points. Illinois jumped out to an early lead with wins in three of the first five matches.
Chris Dardanes struggled in his bout against Daryl Thomas at 133 pounds. Thomas was more aggressive throughout the match and coasted to a 17-8 win.
Dylan Ness stumbled to a 10-0 deficit in the first two periods of his bout at 149 pounds and fell 11-3. Ness was the NCAA runner-up at 149 pounds last season, so the upset came as a surprise.
Eggum said Ness is still not at 100 percent after his return from an injury, and that was clear with his performance.
“I believe each week, he is getting better, but tonight he wrestled flat and didn’t wrestle a great match from what I could see,” Eggum said.
Despite the Gophers’ early losses, Nick Dardanes (141 pounds) and Danny Zilverberg (157) collected points for the Gophers, and the squad only trailed 11-6 at intermission.
Minnesota dropped the first match out of the break, but then the big dogs took over.
The Gophers closed the dual with four-straight wins. Logan Storley got the party started with a 6-5 victory, and Kevin Steinhaus, Schiller and Nelson followed suit.
Eggum said he would like his squad to be more aggressive across the board. He said his wrestlers had opportunities to land major decisions Monday, but they failed to do so.
“We need to do a better job against a better opponent next week,” Eggum said. “We could have done a better job tonight … but now we move forward.”
Minnesota will battle bitter rival Iowa on Saturday at Williams Arena.