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    Illinois edges Northwestern

    CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Illinois heavyweight Deuce Rachal's throw of No. 19 Conan Jennings with 37 seconds left in the third period gave the redshirt junior a 3-2 victory, and the Illini an 18-17 come-from-behind win against Northwestern. The win improves Illinois to 3-2 on the season, 2-1 in the Big Ten, and extends their home winning streak to nine matches dating back to a 25-24 win over Northwestern on February 7, 2015.

    "Deuce is good. He's got a little different background, and we're still trying to teach him wrestling, but he's an unbelievable athlete. He doesn't like the fact that we're trying to make him wrestle more under control, but he's listening. The other night he was mad at us because we told him not to try to throw the guy. Situationally, he's very good. He's starting to understand wrestling better and that's awesome. As a team, we gave the match away at 133 [pounds] and we gave one away at 197 [pounds]. But, we had a great effort from Deuce and he saved the day for us."

    Trailing 17-15 entering the final match of the duel, Coach Heffernan and the Illini looked to Rachal to pull the upset over Coann Jennings at heavyweight. After the two heavyweights traded escapes in the second and third period, Rachal and Jennings were in neutral with under a minute remaining. 20 seconds later, Rachal threw the Wildcat and wrapped him up for the go-ahead takedown. Despite an escape by Jennings with 27 seconds to go, Rachal fended off his 19th ranked opponent to seal the win. The win for Rachal (8-8) is the first for the redshirt junior over a ranked opponent.

    "Throughout the second period I felt like I could hit that throw, but I was too nervous about it because in past experiences I've fallen straight to my back," explained Rachal. "During the time switch [after the second period,] I talked to Coach Heffernan and [assistant coach] Jeremy [Hunter] and they just said, 'go for it and feel it,' so I just had to make sure I felt it. And then when I felt it, I just went for it."

    Trailing its in-state rival three different times during the match, the Illini fought back from a deficit that was as big as seven points after the fourth bout of the day. Northwestern took three of the first four matches from the Orange and Blue with decisions by No. 12 Sebastian Rivera (125) and Colin Valdiviez (133), and a major decision by No. 9 Ryan Deakin (149). Illinois' lone victory came at 141 pounds with a 3-2 decision by redshirt freshman Mike Carr over Alec McKenna.

    Down by seven, 10-3, redshirt seniors No. 13 Kyle Langenderfer (157 pounds) and No. 2 Isaiah Martinez (165 pounds) guided the Illini back into the lead with nine points between the two middle weights.

    Langenderfer led off with a pair of first-period takedowns against Northwestern's Shayne Oster to lead 4-2. After Oster cut the lead to 4-3 in the second period with an escape, the Northwestern grappler rode Langenderfer for the first 1:11 of the third period, canceling out the riding time point Langenderfer had built in the first two periods. Needing an escape to avoid Oster tying the match, the Illini veteran coaxed an athletic reversal of Oster with 51 seconds remaining, and held on for a 6-4 victory.

    With eight of the ten bouts being decided without bonus points, Isaiah Martinez's first period pin proved vital in the one-point victory. After a scoreless first minute, Martinez exploded for three takedowns in a span of 51 seconds, gaining a 6-3 advantage over Michael Sepkle (Northwestern). With just over 30 seconds left in the opening period, Martinez took Sepkle to the mat for a fourth time, this time getting the Northwestern 165-pounder on his back for his first pin of the season, and giving the Illini their first lead of the afternoon, 12-10.

    In the final four bouts of the dual, the Illini and Wildcats would exchange the lead after each bout. At 174 pounds, Johnny Sebastian gave Northwestern the lead for the second time with a 16-8 major decision against David Riojas. 12th-ranked Emery Parker (13-1) returned the lead to the Illinois bench with his eighth consecutive victory, an 8-3 decision against Mitch Sliga, only to have the lead taken back by Northwestern at 197 pounds when Regis Durbin scored a takedown with 21 seconds to overcome Andre Lee's go-ahead takedown earlier in the period. However, Deuce Rachal's heroics at heavyweight won the day for the Orange and Blue, as the Illini heavyweight defeated 19th-ranked Conan Jennings.

    Now riding a two-match winning streak in conference, the Illini will continue to test the rigors of the Big Ten next Sunday, January 14, as they go on the road to battle No. 14 Minnesota. The dual is scheduled for 1 p.m. and can be streamed via subscription to BTN Plus or FloWrestling.

    Illini Notes:

  • Illinois has won nine straight home victories dating back to a 25-24 victory on Feb. 7, 2015 victory against Northwestern
  • The win over the Wildcats increases Illinois' win streak against its in-state rival to seven straight dating back to 2012.
  • Deuce Rachal picked up his first win over a ranked opponent, defeating No. 19 Conan Jennings, 3-2
  • Emery Parker's 8-3 victory over Mitch Sliga marked his eighth straight win of the season and his team-leading 13th of the season
  • Isaiah Martinez picked up his first pin of the season, the 18th of his career. All five of his matches have been won by either tech fall or pin.
  • Martinez has now scored 26 dual team points in five matches
  • Martinez's 18 career pins is just two behind Illinois' top-10 list. Troy Tirapelle ranks 10th with 20 career falls.

    125: #12 Sebastian Rivera (NU) dec. Travis Piotrowski (ILL), 9-3 ILL 0, NU 3
    133: Colin Valdiviez (NU) dec. #20 Dylan Duncan (ILL), 12-6 ILL 0, NU 6
    141: Mike Carr (ILL) dec. Alec McKenna (NU), 3-2 ILL 3, NU 6
    149: #9 Ryan Deakin (NU) major dec. Eric Barone (ILL), 12-0 ILL 3, NU 10
    157: #13 Kyle Langenderfer (ILL) dec. Shayne Oster (NU), 6-4 ILL 6, NU 10
    165: #2 Isaiah Martinez (ILL) fall Michael Sepke (NU), 2:33 ILL 12, NU 10
    174: Johnny Sebastian (NU) dec. David Riojas (ILL), 16-8 ILL 12, NU 14
    184: #12 Emery Parker (ILL) dec. Mitch Sliga (NU), 8-3 ILL 15, NU 14
    197: Regis Durbin (NU) dec. Andre Lee (ILL), 4-3 ILL 15, NU 17
    HWT: Deuce Rachal (ILL) dec. #19 Conan Jennings (NU), 3-2 ILL 18, NU 17

    For complete coverage of Fighting Illini wrestling, go to FIGHTINILLINI.com and follow @IlliniWrestling on Twitter and Instagram.
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