Late theatrics and a kiss for the crowd; Berhow seals U victory

Derek Wetmore

With beat-up border rival Wisconsin in town, No. 4 Minnesota won 21-15 Sunday with a partial lineup of its own, avenging a Jan. 9 loss at the National Duals.

The Gophers (13-3, 4-0 Big Ten) hosted a Badgers team that was missing last yearâÄôs national champion at 165 pounds, Andrew Howe, and No. 7 Cole Schmitt (149). It appeared early as though Minnesota would cruise to a victory, but the dual was instead decided in the final seconds when heavyweight Ben Berhow scored a takedown to secure the victory.

âÄúI think the fans got their moneyâÄôs worth today,âÄù head coach J Robinson said.

âÄúTheyâÄôre a Big Ten team; theyâÄôre a rivalry team; theyâÄôre ranked ahead of us,âÄù Robinson said of the winâÄôs importance, then added jokingly, âÄúmy wife went there, which is an even bigger reason.âÄù

In the early stages, the dual seemed firmly in MinnesotaâÄôs grasp, but the Badgers clawed their way back to within three points entering the final bout.

In the second-to-last match, Joe Nord (197) avoided losing by a major decision to No. 2 Trevor Brandvold but left the fate of the afternoon in the hands of Berhow, who had to halt a late Wisconsin charge.

MinnesotaâÄôs starting heavyweight, Tony Nelson, is dealing with a staph infection in his leg and could not compete Sunday.

Normally a team might be nervous to send a backup to the mat with the dual on the line, but the Gophers are an exception âÄî they have a returning NCAA qualifier as their backup. Berhow was notified Saturday that he would likely start, and he was up to the challenge.

The senior was tied 1-1 with time winding down in the third period when he flipped his opponent, Eric Bugenhagen, and secured a 2-point takedown. Bugenhagen escaped, but the point was too little, too late as Berhow had already secured the victory and the dual for his team.

âÄúI knew there was short time, and I knew I needed to make something happen,âÄù Berhow said. âÄúIâÄôve worked on that move, but itâÄôs usually not that fantastic looking.âÄù

The sellout crowd âÄî announced at 5,255 âÄî rose to its feet as Berhow blew kisses to those in the Sports Pavilion.

âÄúThat one was special; IâÄôll remember that for the rest of my life,âÄù he said of the victory.

ItâÄôs been a trying year for Berhow, who dealt with a hip injury early in the season only to have Nelson put a choke hold on the starting spot with his impressive performances.

Berhow said heâÄôs glad to help the team any way he can, even if that means simply making Nelson a better wrestler.

âÄúIf I can make Tony a national champion, thatâÄôll be reward enough for me,âÄù he said.

Still, the senior has been placed in a less-than-enviable position and handled it admirably. Robinson said the team was grateful to see the way Berhow handled himself and even more thankful he pulled the dual out for the team.

âÄúSteel sharpens steel,âÄù Robinson said. âÄúWhen you have someone like Ben pushing [Nelson] all day long [in practice], you know that no matter what comes, weâÄôre going to have a good heavyweight.âÄù

Tension wasnâÄôt nearly as high in the first half of the dual as Minnesota jumped out to its now-characteristic early lead. Zach Sanders (125) staved off an apparent leg injury and a bloodied nose to secure an 11-8 decision.

David Thorn (133) dropped a 9-4 decision, but his big brother Mike Thorn (141) secured a pin to give Minnesota a 9-3 lead in the dual.

With No. 7 Schmitt out of the lineup at 149, Danny Zilverberg capitalized, recording a major decision to stretch the GophersâÄô lead even further.

After the break, Cody Yohn (165) recorded a technical fall over HoweâÄôs replacement, Ben Cox, to give Minnesota a comfortable 18-6 lead.

But three straight decisions got Wisconsin back in the match and set the stage for BerhowâÄôs heroics.