Hayden Larson needed only to stay off his back to clinch a victory for the Tomah Timberwolves.
He did a lot more than that.
Larson executed an electrifying pin of Sparta’s Noah Benish 63 seconds into the first period to deliver Tomah’s 37-25 victory over Sparta in a Mississippi Valley Conference wrestling match Thursday at Tomah High School.
Tomah improved its dual record to 6-3 overall and 2-1 in the MVC with a victory that was much more tense than the final 12-point margin indicated.
“I was proud of the kids,” Tomah coach Jeff Von Haden said. “Everyone battled − guys who won and lost. They competed hard.”
The team score came down to several jump-ball matches in the upper weights, and none was bigger than the 285-pound bout between Larson and Benish in the final match of the night.
Tomah held a 31-25 lead heading into the finale, and the Spartans needed Benish, a seasoned senior with a 12-7 record, to execute a pin over Larson to tie the match.
“That was one I didn’t know if (Larson) would win or not,” Von Haden said. “(Benish) has been their heavyweight the past couple of years.”
Benish came out looking for six points right away. He bull-rushed Larson shortly after the opening whistle, and Larson was penalized a point for retreating off the mat.
Larson’s next move worked out much better. He got Benish into a headlock, took him straight on his back and ended the match.
“He went out after it,” Von Haden said. “He was aggressive − he just attacked and attacked. That was awesome. It didn’t have to come down to a tiebreaker.”
Sparta had an opening thanks to the absence of Tomah’s 170-pounder Jairon Pierce, who was sidelined by a minor injury. Von Haden moved Thor Lass from 182 to 170 and slid sophomore Jacob Roberts into the 182 slot against Sparta’s Marcus Cox.
Roberts never trailed in the match but gave up a takedown with 15 seconds left in the second period that tied the score at 6-6.
Cox started the third period on top and rode Roberts for nearly 1 ½ minutes before Roberts got an escape for a 7-6 lead. Roberts padded his lead with a takedown 20 seconds later. Cox quickly escaped, but the two stayed neutral the final seconds to seal Roberts’ 9-7 win.
“That one was a tossup in my head − it could have went either way,” Von Haden said.
Tomah’s lead went to 31-22 after Kaden Hericks scored eight points in the final period to claim a 12-0 major decision over Madden Connelly.
Sparta’s Garet Pfaff countered with a 4-1 victory over Colby Von Haden to give the Spartans three points and set up the drama in the final match.
Only six of the 14 matches were decided by pin. Two of them came in the first two matches, where Tomah’s Caden Griffin (106) and Caleb Pollack (113) staked Tomah to a 12-0 lead.
That was followed by a long-anticipated match between Sparta standout Jon Bailey and Dawson Lambert at 120. Bailey controlled the match, trading takedowns for escapes in a 13-6 victory.
Bailey improved his record to 26-0.
“It was a very tough match for Dawson,” Von Haden said. “But it’s nice to see (Bailey). Now we know what we have to do to beat him.”
Tomah’s only other pin came at 132, where Nate Boulton needed just 42 seconds to end his match against Estaban Rodriguez.
The Timberwolves prevailed in a close match at 145, where freshman Sam Linzmeier trailed most of the match but rallied in the third period to defeat Thomas Treu 11-8.
Treu led 5-2 after an early reversal in the second period. Linzmeier battled back to a 6-6 tie, but Treu executed a takedown with three seconds left in the period.
Linzmeier started on the bottom to start the third period. He cut the gap to 8-7 with an escape and won the match with a takedown and two-point near-fall.
“It was a gutty performance,” Von Haden said. “He got behind but kept battling back.”
Tomah’s other victory came at 160, where Marques Fritsche boosted his record to 27-4 with a victory over Corbin Hauser.
Von Haden said the number of close matches reflected well on both squads.
“I give credit to both teams,” he said. “They both wrestled hard. It was a good, hard-fought match − what Tomah-Sparta wrestling should be all about.”
The Timberwolves close out their home season Thursday, Jan. 17 with an MVC dual against Onalaska. The junior varsity matches start at 6:15 p.m., followed by the varsity at 7:15 p.m.
Tomah Journal editor Steve Rundio can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.