Despite trailing 24-22 with four matches remaining, Little Falls Flyers head coach Mike Hendrickson confidently said afterward, “We knew we could make some hay at the top.”
The Flyers won the final four in dramatic fashion, with first-period pins, to give top-seeded Little Falls a 46-24 win over the No. 2 St. Cloud Apollo Eagles in the Section 8-3A team championship Saturday night at Brainerd High School.
Adam Grams (182 pounds) started the rousing finish with a pin in 1:03, Trysten Ross (195) recorded a fall in 1:22, Joe Reis (220) clinched the title with a 50-second pin and Conor Swanson (285) put the finishing touches on the win with a fall in 26 seconds.
“(Apollo) bumped everybody up (in the final four weights), so we had some weight advantages, obviously,” Hendrickson said.
The section title was Little Falls’ first since 2006 and advanced the Flyers to the 3A state tournament March 1-3 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Forfeits and a family trip led to a few weeks of inactivity for Reis, whose pin doused any Apollo hopes of scoring pins in the last two weights and winning the dual. The inactivity didn’t seem to bother the junior as he pinned Apollo’s Jerad Morford.
“I was trying to get in a single leg or maybe a head chance if I could,” Reis said, “but then he ended up shooting on me and I just tried making sure he wouldn’t spin around. I ended up flipping him over on his back, and using the arm for leverage. After a little bit of struggling I managed to just stick him.”
Reis entered the day with a 6-12 record, while Morford was 14-14. Hendrickson pointed out that Reis’ last three wins were via forfeit.
“He came back (from the trip) in pretty decent shape and we worked the crap out of him this week to have him ready,” Hendrickson said. “(Apollo) was his only match tonight actually because he had a forfeit again.”
Reis, a wrestler for only about three years, is now headed to state with his Flyer teammates.
“The past year has been probably the most I’ve grown and learned,” he said. “I think it’s really cool because this is like my first year on varsity. If it would have happened last year it wouldn’t have meant nearly as much. This year, with all the hard work and matches, it means so much more.”
The last four matches weren’t the only dramatic ones for the Flyers.
Eighth-grader Justin Jenks opened the dual with a 12-10 overtime win against Apollo’s Peter Nelson. Jenks seized an 8-0 lead before Nelson stormed back and forced an extra period.
“We thought maybe we had a cradle pin early and we didn’t get the call so I’m thinking minus 6, now it’s going the other way,” Hendrickson said, “and he almost pinned us for a while. A minus 12-point swing, that could have been disastrous.
“But, as it turned out, we’ve just got to keep the faith. We started talking about this one year ago today basically. All summer long at camp all we talked about was state, not conference, state, so these guys are a bit brainwashed. Nothing was going to stop them.”
The marquee matchup was at 145 between the Flyers’ Dillon Kifer, ranked ninth at 138, and Apollo’s undefeated Mitch Bengtson, a three-time state champion and ranked No. 1 at 126. Both bumped up weight classes and Bengtson handed Kifer only his second loss, a fall at 3:05.
“He’s in another league,” Hendrickson said of Bengtson, “because Kifer’s pretty tough and that guy just toyed with him.”
Little Falls 46, St. Cloud Apollo 24
106: Justin Jenks (LF) dec. Peter Nelson 12-10 ot
113: Axel Lange (LF) pinned Devon Johnson 2:42
120: Frank Wilczek (LF) dec. Grant Dullinger 8-1
126: Matt Braun (SCA) dec. Dan Mushel 8-4
132: Conner Scherping (LF) maj. dec. Steve Tran 8-0
138: Levi Hoffman (LF) by forfeit
145: Mitch Bengtson (SCA) pinned Dillon Kifer 3:05
152: Grant Nehring (SCA) dec. Jordan Petrone 5-0
160: Nam Nguyen (SCA) pinned Derek McMahn (LF) 3:20
170: Nick Stram (SCA) pinned Tyler Gastecki 6:43
182: Adam Grams (LF) pinned Ethan Thumb 1:03
195: Trysten Ross (LF) pinned Dylan Mehr (SCA) 1:22
220: Joe Reis (LF) pinned Jerad Morford :50 clinches it
285: Conor Swanson (LF) pinned Alex Brun :26
Overall: LF 22-8. Next: LF in Class 3A state tournament March 1-3, Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul; LF in Section 8-3A individual tournament, Friday-Saturday, at Sauk Rapids.