The Final Comeback (Wrestling)

Wade Askew

By Wade AskewThe Daily Northwestern

Jake Herbert paced ceaselessly as usual before his match against Michigan’s No. 4 Tyrel Todd. He sported the same intimidating scowl that has become his trademark. But in the third period of a tight match against Todd, Herbert looked vulnerable for the first time this season.

Despite winning the match 10-8, the top-ranked Herbert was disgusted with a match in which he allowed Todd to tie the score at 5-5 and later 8-8 with 14 seconds left in the third period. However, neither was a true tie as Herbert held a one-point advantage due to riding time.

“It’s no excuse,” Herbert said of his performance. “I’m feeling under the weather, pretty sick right now, and I haven’t felt good all day, and it just showed out there in my wrestling. But you’re going to have those matches where you’re wrestling at your absolute worst but you can still beat one of the best.”

The win was only the first bit of drama in a night in which No. 14 Northwestern closed the regular season by earning its second Big Ten win in three days.

After Friday’s dominating 31-13 win over Purdue (10-8, 0-8 Big Ten), the only unranked team in the Big Ten, NU entered Sunday night’s contest against No. 23 Michigan (2-10-1, 1-7) in search of some added momentum entering the Big Ten tournament on March 3-4.

The Michigan dual came down to redshirt freshman Eric Metzler’s match, the last of the night, at 133 pounds. NU led entering the contest 17-14 and needed a final victory to seal the match.

Facing Chris Diehl, Metzler had a slight two-point advantage going into the third and final period. With 1:19 remaining in the match and Metzler still clinging to a 2-0 lead, the Wildcat freshman began clutching his hamstring in pain.

After receiving attention from trainers and coaches, Metzler returned to the match aggressively, scoring a takedown within 10 seconds of the injury restart. Metzler then held onto a 4-0 win, giving NU the 20-14 dual victory.

Wrestlers at Metzler’s weight class typically do not close duals, and the experience was certainly new for a freshman. Still, Metzler stayed cool and wrestled the match like any other.

“I was pretty confident,” Metzler said. “You can’t put too much pressure on yourself in that situation, you’ve just got to go in there with the mindset that this is just another match, you’ve got to take it one step at a time, one period at a time, one step at a time, and just set up your shots like you did a million times in practice.”

As for the ailing hamstring, Metzler said, “A hamstring that’s cramping is not going to stop me from finishing a match – I mean that wasn’t even a thought.”

The weekend victories improved the Cats’ record to 13-8 (3-5). NU also got a boost from the return of No. 7 Mike Tamillow, who missed last week’s loss against No. 18 Indiana with an inflamed bursa sac in his knee.

Tamillow returned to the form that once had him ranked second in the nation among 197-pounders, dominating Purdue’s No. 14 Nathan Moore 8-0. Against Michigan, Tamillow defeated No. 20 Nick Roy 4-0. The matches served as a mental tune-up for Tamillow.

“It’s all in my head,” Tamillow said after the Purdue match. “It’s there, and it’s annoying, but that’s how a bursa sac is – it’s supposed to be painful, and I had a shot for it. I was a little afraid that it was going to blow up, but it didn’t blow up, and I went out there and I felt great, and I wrestled great.

“I can’t wait for Nationals, and Big Tens, of course.”

Reach Wade Askew at [email protected]