Pin surprises all Gophers, including Benjamin

by Allison Younge

IOWA CITY, Iowa — These were the obstacles standing in the way of a victory for the Gophers wrestling team Sunday against Iowa:
Going into this season, Iowa had won 99 percent of its matches in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
In the past 25 years, the Gophers had beaten Iowa only once — a 23-11 victory at Williams Arena in 1994.
In addition, Minnesota’s regular clutch-man Tim Hartung had just lost by one point in overtime at 190 pounds, giving the Hawkeyes a five-point advantage going into the final bout.
The odds, the crowd and the match momentum gave the win to the Hawkeyes. A pin from Gophers heavyweight Shelton Benjamin was the only possible way Minnesota could defeat Iowa and clinch the National Dual Meet title — and even Benjamin was doubtful.
“Going into the match, I didn’t really think that I could pin him, because in the past he’s been so strong,” Benjamin said. “I didn’t think that I was going to pin him, but I was looking for a pin.”
The wrestler fittingly called “Primetime” by his teammates and fans did just that. Benjamin flattened Iowa’s Wes Hand in 2:16, seizing a win for himself and six points for the Gophers. An 18-17 Minnesota victory was secured.
“I think Hartung’s match was a stunner to us because he’s our big dog,” Benjamin said. “I just had to pick up the slack.”
Frustrated on the sideline before the final match, Gophers coach J Robinson didn’t offer any advice to Benjamin. He knew that Minnesota’s heavyweight understood the Gophers’ circumstances. But Robinson, a wrestling veteran, admitted the situation looked bleak.
“It’s like you’re sitting there and you’re saying your prayers hoping that it happens,” Robinson said. “But how many times does it really happen?”
The skeptical attitude before the heavyweight match rang true throughout the team. Minnesota’s 150-pounder Chad Kraft described the emotional rollercoaster.
“Going into Benjamin’s match, I was heartbroken,” Kraft said. “I was about ready to sit down in the corner and start crying because I was so devastated. The next thing I know the crowd erupts and I look up and Benjamin’s got him on his back ready to pin him and ends up nailing him to the mat.”
Benjamin stunned the crowd, locking Hand to the ground for nearly 15 seconds before the pin was awarded. The referee’s final pound on the mat echoed clearly throughout the silenced arena. For the first time in wrestling history, Minnesota had captured a win over Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
When the initial second of shock wore off, the Gophers’ excitement was uncaged in a flurry of victory celebrations. Although unappreciative, even the referee got a bear hug from Benjamin.
The Hawkeyes fans departed quickly after the match, as if an ominous thunderstorm had suddenly formed in the rafters of Carver-Hawkeye arena. Not only were they defeated by their northern border rival at home, they were defeated by J Robinson — a recognizable face in Iowa City. Robinson served as assistant coach for the Hawkeyes from 1976-1984.
“You can’t be a coach at Iowa as long as I was, and through the whole thing when it was being built and created, and say it’s not important to come back here,” Robinson said. “I know from the other side when I come in here — who is the one guy you wouldn’t want to lose to if you were an Iowa wrestler?”
While Robinson emphasized that the Gophers were more concerned with winning the National Duals title than defeating Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, there was more than a glint of satisfaction in his eye.
“It was one of those things. It was there and he got it. If he had it to do over again, it probably wouldn’t have happened,” Robinson said. “But at the right place and the right time, things can happen. Hand came up and was in the wrong place, and made a lot of people happy.”
Robinson laughed, and then finished his thought. “He made a lot of people sad, but a lot of people happy.”