IOWA CITY | Sam Stoll took it all in stride.
“Not my first rodeo," the Iowa 285-pound junior said after his match-ending pin allowed the Hawkeyes to escape with an 18-17 win over Illinois in front of a crowd of 8,206 on Friday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“I feel like I’ve been in that situation a million times. I’m looking for a pin anytime I’m out there. Tonight, we needed it."
The Hawkeyes trailed the Fighting Illini 17-12 when Stoll took the mat to face Deuce Rachal in the final match of the night and a win by pin was the only way for Iowa to avoid its first dual loss to the Fighting Illini since 2006.
“I knew what I had to do," Stoll said.
The seventh-ranked Hawkeye turned up the pressure, forced Rachal out of his comfort zone on the middle of the mat and when the Illinois wrestler put himself on his back, Stoll pounced.
“Stoll is a warrior," Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “He was able to get (Rachal) out of position and make it count. Their guy was strong, had a judo background, we knew that, and we were able to get a lot of pressure on him."
Rachal, a junior with a 5-5 record, never had a chance to recover as Stoll won for the fifth time in as many matches since returning at the start of the season from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
“I just had to go out and do my job. I had to go out and be ready to work hard for seven minutes, take care of what I had to do," Stoll said. “He gave me an opportunity and I was able to finish the match the way it needed to be finished."
It took a win by Cash Wilcke in overtime at 197 for Stoll to have that chance.
Wilcke scored a takedown with five seconds remaining in the first overtime session to earn a 3-1 win over the Illini’s Andre Lee.
“I was confident in overtime," Wilcke said. “I attacked early and missed a shot, but I kept confident. It was tough to score, but I kept at it"
Iowa found it tough to score all night against Illinois, which used a 9-1 edge in first-period takedowns to earn a 5-5 split in matches against the Hawkeyes.
“It was a struggle offensively," Brands said. “If you give up takedowns like we did in the first period and get one, you’ll really struggle every time. We did not come out and fight the way we needed to. We didn’t show much fight at all."
Until Stoll’s fall, the Fighting Illini’s Isaiah Martinez collected the only bonus points of the night.
The two-time NCAA champion, six days removed from a fifth-place finish at the World U23 Championships in Poland, claimed a 24-8 technical fall over Iowa’s Kaleb Young at 165, helping Illinois (1-2, 0-1 Big Ten) open a lead which stood at 17-9 before Wilcke took the mat.
Iowa (5-0, 1-0) needed a pair of 4-1 decisions by its two second-rated wrestlers, Brandon Sorensen at 149 and Michael Kemerer at 157 and a 6-1 win from Joey Gunther at 174 to give itself a chance to rally late.
“We needed to get going, put ourselves in a position to get some bonus points," Brands said. “Some of that was Illinois, they wrestled a very strategic match, but some of that is on us. We need more urgency."