SEWARD, Neb. – On a night the Concordia University wrestling program used to honor its seniors, the class of veterans went a perfect 4-0 in a dual decided by a razor thin margin. The Bulldogs made their final home appearance of 2017-18 a positive one, recording a 21-16 victory over visiting Northwestern inside Walz Arena on Thursday night (Feb. 1). Concordia entered the night still hanging on to hopes of sharing the GPAC dual title.
With one more dual left to be contested, second-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad has moved to 8-7 overall and to 5-2 in GPAC battles. Nicola was pleased to see the seniors contribute heavily in their last home impressions.
“Every senior won tonight,” Nicola said. “We talked earlier this week about their contributions to this program. Tonight’s victory was case in point. Without their victories tonight, we wouldn’t have won as a team. I’m very proud of them.”
In a dual that got started at 157 pounds, the night swung in favor of the Bulldogs in two critical close calls at the 184 and heavyweight bouts. Ranked 11th nationally at 184 pounds, junior Josh Nelsen took on the Red Raiders’ D’rell Gist. Nelsen needed the entire seven minutes. He recorded a takedown just before the buzzer to snare a 5-4 win by decision. Two matches later, senior Michael Duffy pulled a rabbit out of his hat and electrified the crowd with a 9-5 win over Isaac Ruiz.
A native of Kennesaw, Neb., Duffy began his college career with the Bulldogs, then left the team to be a student only before returning this season. On Thursday, he got rock star treatment after thrilling the crowd with a late takedown and four near fall points to turn the tide.
“We had been working that under hook to the knee tap. It was there finally in the third (period),” Duffy said. “They were probably telling me to cut him and I couldn’t hear. The cradle was there. I couldn’t take him over the normal way so a suicide was the way to go that time.”
Other seniors to join Duffy in the win column included Giovanni Castillo (133), Jerry Stepps III (125) and Jared Woods (157). Stepps III brings a unique background. The St. Louis native spent the first three years of his college career working towards moments like this. He’s now 7-0 in GPAC duals after wiping out Northwestern’s Sam Klarenbeek by a 13-5 major decision. Woods also won by major decision while Castillo settled for a 7-4 decision after recording three takedowns in the opening period.
Sophomore Cam Devers clinched the team win at 141 pounds when he toppled Elijah Dahl by major decision, 13-5. Devers dominated the first period with a pair of takedowns and four near fall points on the way to his team high 23rd victory of the season.
Down the stretch, Concordia appears to putting things together after some ups and downs through the middle of the season. Tenacity to the very last seconds of Thursday’s matches made this victory possible.
“We train for that so we understand if there’s time on the clock, there’s time to score,” Nicola said. “We always look to score, whether we’re winning by four or down by two or one. You don’t typically see heavyweights lock up and roll through a suicide cradle, but Michael Duffy did and came up big for us.
“Northwestern’s a very well-coached. Coach (Rick) Dahl does an incredible job. They’re a very respectful team.”
The rest of Concordia’s lineup was made up of Deandre Chery (174), Chucky Hedrick (165), Chris Kimball (149) and Darrin Miller (197). Kimball came up just shy of upsetting No. 13 Dante Preciado in a bout that ended in a 5-4 decision. Kimball had taken a 4-2 lead with a reversal in the second period.
Only two more dates remain on the schedule prior to the GPAC championships on Feb. 17. The Bulldogs will take part in the Morningside Open in Sioux City, Iowa, on Saturday. Then on Feb. 8, Concordia will be back in Sioux City to close the dual schedule by going head-to-head with Morningside. At this point, the best the Bulldogs can hope for is a second-place GPAC dual finish. Briar Cliff (7-1 GPAC) wrapped up the outright championship on Thursday.