ST. LOUIS -- Fighting Illini wrestling secured a dramatic, 19-14 victory over No. 13 Missouri Thursday night at Francis Howell High School in St. Louis. Trailing, 11-6, at intermission, the Illini won four of the last five bouts of the night to take the dual. With the score at 16-14, the match came down to the heavyweight bout, and Illini freshman Luke Luffman delivered with a come-from-behind, 9-7, decision victory over Rodrigo Diaz to win Illinois the match and send the Illini to 2-1 on the season.
"Guys wrestled with a lot pride, energy and heart," said head coach Jim Heffernan. We had five freshmen in the lineup, and what a fantastic job by (Luke) Luffman! (Joey) Gunther's win was incredible. He found a way to win against a very good guy (No. 8 Connor Flynn). I'm very proud of our effort."
Freshman Luke Luffman improved to 7-0 on the season and earned the biggest victory of his young collegiate career thus far with his dual-winning, 9-7, decision over Rodrigo Diaz. At the end of the first period, the score was tied 3-3, but Diaz tallied three points in the second to make the score 6-3 heading into the final period. With the match on the line Luffman took over in the third, escaping and forcing a takedown to tie the score at 6-6. Luffman would tack on another takedown late to go-ahead, and with the point for riding time, won the bout, 9-7, over Diaz, securing a 19-14 Illinois victory over No. 13 Missouri.
Also instrumental in the Illini victory was No. 14 Joey Gunther's come-from-behind upset win over No. 11 Connor Flynn at 174-pounds. After a scoreless first period, Flynn scored two points in the second to take a 2-0 lead into the third. Trailing late in the third, Gunther secured a takedown to tie the match at 2-2 and force overtime. In Sudden Victory-1, Gunther tacked on a second takedown to win the bout over Flynn, 4-2. The win by Gunther put the Illini back in front, 12-11, ahead of the Tigers.
The Illini also saw key victories out of redshirt freshman Danny Braunagel and redshirt freshman Zac Braunagel. Danny Braunagel got the Illini comeback started with his 11-5 decision over Peyton Mocco at 165-pounds. Mocco scored the first two points of the match with an early takedown, but it was all Braunagel the rest of the way. Braunagel built a 5-1 lead heading into the final period, then added six points in the third with two takedowns and a two-point nearfall. Braunagel's win cut the Missouri advantage to just 11-9 over the Illini, setting the stage for Gunther, who would give the Illini the lead back for good. Braunagel improves to 8-1 on the season, and his eight victories are the most on the team to this point in the season.
After Gunther's win, the Illini only led by one team point, 12-11, and were looking to Zac Braunagel to increase the lead in the 184-pound bout. He secured four team points with his 15-7 major decision win against Canten Marriott. Braunagel was in control throughout the match. He got off to a strong start with two takedowns in the first and then two more in the second. With an 8-4 lead entering the final period, Braunagel took over, picking up three takedowns with the third putting him in line for the major decision. His victory gave the Illini some breathing room, putting their lead over the Tigers at 16-11 with two bouts to go. Braunagel now sits at 7-2 on the season.
Illinois got off to a strong start on Thursday thanks to wins in the first two bouts of the evening from redshirt freshman Justin Cardani (125) and senior Travis Piotrowski (133). Cardani did all of his scoring in the second period, going up, 3-0, on Dack Punke heading into the final period. He earned the riding time point and gave the Illinois an initial, 3-0, advantage over Missouri with his 4-0 decision against Punke. Cardani is now 4-3 on the season.
Senior No. 9 Travis Piotrowski moved to 3-0 in dual bouts this season with his 4-3 decision over No. 25 Allan Hart. Piotrowski took a 3-2 lead at the end of the first period with a two-point takedown late in the opening frame. Hart tied the score with an escape in the second, but Piotrowski took the lead back with an escape in the third and defended the rest of the way en route to the decision that put Illinois ahead, 6-0, over No. 13 Missouri. Piotrowski is now 7-1 overall on the season.
With tonight's win, Illinois moves to 21-12 in the all-time series with Missouri.
The Illini will spend the next few weeks in the room preparing for their first home dual of the season, which will be on Friday, December 6 against Northern Illinois. The dual against NIU is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. CT at Huff Hall. The promotion is Showdown, and the first 100 fans in attendance will receive free popcorn.
125: Justin Cardani (ILL) dec. Dack Punke (MIZ), 4-0, ILL 3, MIZ 0
133: No. 9 Travis Piotrowski (ILL) dec. No. 25 Alan Hart (MIZ), 4-3, ILL 6, MIZ 0
141: No. 5 Grant Leeth (MIZ), major dec. We Rachal (ILL), 10-2, ILL 6, MIZ 4
149: No. 2 Brock Mauller (MIZ) major dec. Mousa Jodeh (ILL), 12-3, MIZ 8, ILL 6
157: No. 15 Jarrett Jacques (MIZ) dec. Eric Barone (ILL), 7-2, MIZ 11, ILL 6
165: Danny Braunagel (ILL) dec. Peyton Mocco (MIZ), 11-5, MIZ 11, ILL 9
174: No. 14 Joey Gunther (ILL) SV-1 No. 11 Connor Flynn, 4-2, ILL 12, MIZ 11
184: Zac Braunagel (ILL) major dec. Canten Marriott (MIZ), 15-6. ILL 16, MIZ 11
197: No. 20 Wyatt Koelling (MIZ) dec. Matt Wroblewski (ILL), 6-2, ILL 16, MIZ 14
285: Luke Luffman (ILL) dec. Rodrigo Diaz (MIZ), 9-7, ILL 19, MIZ 14