Illini “step it up” with big win over No. 25 Boilermakers

Mike Poeta competes against an Iowa wrestler on Feb. 24 at Huff Hall. The senior led the Illini to a win over Purdue during the weekend. Brennan Caughron

Mike Poeta competes against an Iowa wrestler on Feb. 24 at Huff Hall. The senior led the Illini to a win over Purdue during the weekend. Brennan Caughron

By Jay Lee

Illinois head coach Mark Johnson wasted little time in challenging his team after its 32-4 loss to No. 1 Iowa last Sunday.

“Right after we left Iowa, I challenged them on the bus,” Johnson said. “After that kind of performance, I told them they better be prepared to come to work hard in practice and frickin’ step it up at Purdue.”

The Illini responded in practice, with a week filled with some competition of its own.

“After what coach told us after the Iowa loss, the 10 guys who wrestle really started to challenge each other on Monday,” senior Mike Poeta said. “We had become complacent in our training, just kind of leaving after our work was done, things like that. Starting this week, we started to get on each other, having a competition to see who could work the hardest.”

The effort paid off for Poeta and the No. 7 Illini (8-1-0, 1-1-0 Big Ten) on Friday night, with the senior’s 13-2 major decision over Purdue’s Colton Salazar leading the way in the Illini’s 29-11 win over the No. 25 Boilermakers (11-2-1, 0-1-1).

Poeta was among five Illini to post major decisions on the night, along with B.J. Futrell, Jimmy Kennedy, Ryan Prater and Jordan Blanton.

The Illini never trailed on the night, jumping out to a 26-5 lead after eight matches. Johnson’s squad took eight of the 10 matches, a reversal from last week’s meet with Iowa, in which Illinois only managed one win.

“We were afraid to lose to Iowa, and we got intimidated and let (Iowa) control us from the beginning,” Johnson said. “We were able to do that to Purdue tonight.”

Illinois’ only two losses came from Eric Terrazas, who suffered a 17-0 technical fall to Purdue’s Jake Patacsil, and Jake Norman, who was pinned by Purdue’s Logan Brown in 2:35.

Terrazas became the full-time starter at 149 pounds after it was announced sophomores Grant Paswall (team violations) and Joey Kotowski (personal reasons) were no longer with the team. Troy Tirapelle had been slated for the 149 slot until a season-ending shoulder injury in December.

Illinois pushed the lead to 19-5 after Illinois’ Roger Smith-Bergsrud grabbed ahold both of Purdue’s Luke Manuel’s ankles to secure a takedown as time expired.

After a brief discussion between the officials concerning whether time had expired, the points and the match were awarded to Smith-Bergsrud.

“I had him reeling, and I was getting stronger towards the end,” Smith-Bergsrud said. “Even if it went into overtime, I liked my chances.”

The last-second finish capped a match which went back and forth, with the score at 1-0 in Manuel’s favor at the start of the last period. After posting an early escape to even the score, Smith-Bergsrud quickly went after Manuel’s legs in hopes of a takedown.

He was awarded a point after Manuel was hit with a stalling penalty, tying the score since Manuel held the riding time advantage. Smith-Bergsrud’s late takedown broke the tie to make the final score 4-2.

“Roger was the aggressor, especially at the end,” Johnson said. “He really went after him and deserved to win that match. I always tell them that good things happen when you go out and be aggressive.”

After losing 3-0 to Iowa’s Ryan Morningstar last week, Smith-Bergsrud took Johnson’s challenge to heart.

“He told us it was time for us to man up,” Smith-Bergsrud said.