SDSU drops Bison wrestlers in Big XII final for both teams

NDSU win streak snapped in dual that goes down to the wire

On Senior Day at the Bentson Bunker Fieldhouse, the North Dakota State University wrestling team wrapped up their Big XII conference schedule by hosting the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State University at the Bentson Bunker Fieldhouse. This dual had all the ingredients for an instant classic. Two closely ranked teams (NDSU – 15th  and SDSU – 17th), both teams had several ranked wrestlers (NDSU – 6 and SDSU – 7), the battle for the Border Bell and finally, the venue was changed to the Bentson Bunker Fieldhouse which provided a raucous atmosphere.

            The event lived up to its hype, but the Jackrabbits were the ones to walk away with the win and the Border Bell as they won six of the ten matches to sneak out a 20-17 victory over the Bison.

            South Dakota State (12-4, 6-2 Big XII) won the first three and the last two matches to end the NDSU winning streak at seven. The dual opened at 125 where the Jackrabbits Tanner Jordan shut out NDSU’s Ryan Henningson 4-0. Henningson, in the line-up for an injured Carlos Negrete, Jr., wrestled Jordan tough, but could not manage to score any points.

Next up was the 133-pound match between NDSU’s McGwire Midkiff and SDSU’s Derrick Cardinal. Midkiff, the one Bison senior who wrestled, was one of the Bison favored in their match in this tight dual. However, after wrestling to a regulation tie, Cardinal took Midkiff down in the extra period to bring home a 5-3 win and three team points in the SDSU column. This weight class was one NDSU thought they would win.

“The matches probably went the way we anticipated,” NDSU Head Coach Roger Kish explained. “For us, I think we probably dropped one down low we weren’t expecting to drop. I feel we were favored down low and at 133, McGwire might have let his guy hang around too long in a match he controlled for a good portion of it.”

South Dakota State Head Coach Damian Hahn disagreed.

“It was an upset on paper,” Hahn claimed. “To us, that’s not an upset. Midkiff is good. He’s seasoned, he’s been around here for a while. Our guy is a freshman, and we know how good he is. We expected that win. We knew we could win at 133. No one else thought so.”

SDSU won its third match in a row at 141 when 11th-ranked Clay Carlson beat the Herd’s Gavin Drexler, who was wrestling for an injured Dylan Droegemueller. Again, the backup for the Bison wrestled well, but could not get past Carlson and lost 8-4. The Jackrabbits now led 10-0.

Putting a stop to the Jackrabbits’ hot start was NDSU’s Kellyn March at 149. March, ranked #16 in the country, went back and forth with the Jackrabbits’ Alek Martin. After a quiet opening period where March led 2-1, the two traded escapes and takedowns to end the period tied at 4-4. In the third, with March choosing to start in the bottom position, March began a flurry of scoring which included escapes, reversals, a takedown and one penalty point to make the score 9-7 in March’s favor. As the clock ran out, Martin reversed March one more time to tie it up at 9-9, but March had secured enough riding time to collect a point to end the match at 10-9. The Bison were now on the board, but down 10-3.

With the next match at 157, it was the Jackrabbits’ turn to send out back-ups. The Jacks’ Caleb Gross, wrestling in place of #19 Cael Swensen, faced NDSU’s Jared Franek. Franek toyed with Gross until he had a 21-6 technical fall victory in a match that ended in the second period giving the Bison five sorely needed points.

NDSU 157-pounder Jared Franek attempts to turn South Dakota State’s Caleb Gross on his back for bonus points. Franek scored a technical fall win over Gross 21-6, but the Jackrabbits defeated the Bison in Big XII action 19-17. Photo Courtesy | Zach Lucy – NDSU Athletics

With Franek’s victory at 157, the Herd was within two at 10-8 as both teams headed to the locker room at halftime under a standing ovation from the 1,164 fans on hand in the BBFH.

Out of the break, the 165-pound match was next. SDSU’s Connor Gaynor, who filled in for an injured Tanner Cook, ranked 24th in the country at 165, was no match for NDSU’s Michael Caliendo who pinned Gaynor at 5:29 of the third period. The fall, once again, brought the crowd to its feet as the Bison had their first lead of the match, 14-10.

Gaven Sax was up next for the Bison in the 174-pound match. Sax, unranked this season, faced #23 Cade DeVos. DeVos handled Sax throughout the match limiting Sax to four escapes, winning 8-4 and stopping the Bison winning streak at three.

With the Jacks within one at 14-13, NDSU’S DJ Parker wrestled SDSU’s Cade King. Parker, ranked #28, and King, ranked #20 gave the crowd a treat as both wrestlers attacked, yet defended well. The match was stopped numerous times for blood timeouts which added to the tension. King took down Parker early in the third to close in on Parker at 3-2, but Parker escaped late and won the long and difficult match 4-2 increasing the Bison lead to 17-13.

At 197, SDSU’s Tanner Sloan defeated NDSU’s Owen Pentz 8-2 in a match that wasn’t that close. Sloan, the 9th ranked 197-pounder in the nation, controlled Pentz from the outset as Pentz only managed a reversal and a couple of escapes. The score was now 17-16 with the Bison holding a slim lead and the once energetic Bentson Bunker Fieldhouse crowd was now pensive heading into the heavyweight match.

As at 197, South Dakota State dominated. The Jacks’ A.J. Nevills dominated NDSU’s Juan Mora with an 8-3 win including a riding time point. With the win at 285, the Jackrabbits won the dual 19-17 and reclaimed the Border Bell for another season. The Jackrabbits moved into a second-place tie with the Bison at 6-2 in the Big XII.

Both teams get a couple of weeks off to prepare for the Big XII Wrestling Championships on March 3rd & 4th at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. Kish was philosophical about the way the regular season ended and the upcoming conference tournament.

“We’re gonna go back, we’re gonna fine tune some things in technical things and get better in some areas,” Kish said. “But outside of that, it’s about getting fresh, getting our bodies feeling good and getting our minds wrapped around post-season and getting fired up about competing after the regular season is over.”

Tale of the Tape –

            In a dual expected to be determined by bonus point wins, there were three. Franek scored a technical fall (5 points) at 157 and Caliendo scored a pin (6 points) at 165. SDSU’s Tanner Jordan scored a major decision (4 points) at 125.

            March, Franek, Caliendo, and Parker extended win streaks to 7, 19, 8 and 8, respectively.

Bentson Bunker Fieldhouse –

            In what was one of the best collegiate atmospheres that I have been in, the Bentson Bunker Fieldhouse stole the show on Sunday afternoon. A standing-room-only crowd of 1,164 watched this dual among Top 20 programs and multi-sport rivals. Coach Hahn said it best.

            “If you are not a wrestling person and you were here today, you’ve got to be a wrestling fan now,” Hahn said post-match. “This venue is absolutely awesome. I don’t think they should ever do it in the Scheels Center again. I think this is the venue wrestling needs to be in because you saw the atmosphere and let me tell you this, this place affected some of the matches.”

Next up for the Herd –

            The Big XII Championships are next on the schedule for the Bison. There are five current Bison wrestlers who have placed in the Top Ten in past championships and two more who have competed. Franek has three Top Three finishes: runner-up in ’22 & ’21 and third in ’20. The action begins at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, March 4th. The finals, set for Sunday, March 5th at 5:00 p.m., will be televised on ESPNU. The Missouri Tigers are the defending Big XII Champions.

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