The Fighting Illini started the dual by going up 12-8. Losses and a point deduction on the bench, it looked like Minnesota was well on its way to a second straight conference loss.
Then, the comeback was on.
No. 14 Minnesota won five of the last seven matches to beat No. 12 Illinois Fighting Illini 17-14 at Maturi Pavilion on Sunday afternoon.
“It was great,” head coach Brandon Eggum said. “I thought the fight from our guys was there and that’s important. It was a tough week of travel. I was proud of the guys. With the travel, it couldn’t have been easy, but they were upbeat, they worked hard.”
Things weren’t looking good for Minnesota (5-2, 2-1 Big Ten) early. The Gophers found themselves in a 9-2 hole after Bobby Steveson suffered an injury and lost by default at 197. Minnesota also had a point taken away for a bench warning. The start against Illinois (3-3, 2-2 Big Ten) had Eggum a little nervous, but deep down, he thought his team would find away.
“Once you lose that point and with [Steveson] being injured and giving up six [points], that was a match we were thinking we could win, too," Eggum said. "Coming into the dual, rankings aside, I like the way our guys are wrestling."
Sure enough, Minnesota fought back. Their come back was spurred by sophomore Rylee Streifel’s last-second takedown to defeat Illinois’ Deuce Rachal. It was looking like Rachal was going to win and extend Illinois’ lead, but just before time ran out in the third period, Striefel got a massive takedown and a near fall to win 9-4. The victory brought Minnesota within four team points.
“It was awesome,” Streifel said. “I was so pumped up when I got that takedown at the end. I had to do it for the team. I had to get the win.”
No. 15 Steve Bleise put the Gophers ahead for good when he won a 4-1 decision at 149 pounds. The win gave Minnesota a 14-12 lead. It was the redshirt junior’s season debut for the Gophers.
“It felt pretty good to be back with the team and get out here in front of the home crowd and kind of let it go a little bit,” Bleise said. “I didn’t quite get to my offense as much as I wanted, but I found a way to get the job done and that’s what is most important.”
Minnesota also earned team points from Chris Pfarr at 174, Ethan Lizak at 125, Tommy Thorn at 141 and Jake Short at 157.
Minnesota next dual comes against Michigan on Sunday at the Maturi Pavilion.