Havre Daily News sports editor
A reversal on the mat happens in the blink of an eye. Even though it's only worth two points, it is an important move that can change the complexion of any wrestling match.
A reversal in the fate of two wrestling programs that are rivals usually takes much longer. Instead of seconds, it usually takes years. But that isn't the case for the University of Great Falls Argos and the Montana State University-Northern Lights.
In only its second year in existence and its fourth dual ever against the Lights, the Argos cemented itself as the dominant NAIA wrestling program in Montana with a 24-15 dual victory at the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse in Havre on Wednesday night.
“The first time we beat Northern, it was very big for our program,” UGF head coach Eric Van Kley said. “We look at this win as another step in the right direction for us. It is an important step because everything we do is a process for building towards the national tournament.”
In December, the Argos humiliated the Lights in Great Falls, as Northern managed to score only three points in the dual. For about an hour on Wednesday night, it looked like the same thing was happening to the Lights all over again.
The dual opened with fourth-ranked Forrest Bogue dominating MSU-N's Zach Morgan. The match was over in the second period as Bogue racked up 19 points in four minutes to earn a technical fall.
As embarrassing as the loss was, it appeared that the Lights were determined not to get blown out on their home mat. In the 133-pound match, Colt Heger came out on fire and thrashed UGF's Ryan Montag, 12-5. The win electrified the capacity crowd, which had gathered to honor MSU-N's two seniors, Aaron Jensen and Ryan Mattingly.
“Colt Heger is wrestling unbelievably well right now,” MSU-N head coach Dan Troupe said. “He beat a tough kid tonight and he was working hard to get us a pin. Even though that didn't happen, he wrestled like a champion tonight and Colt is really becoming one of our leaders right now.”
Despite Heger's win, for the next five matches nothing went right for the Lights, and by the time Emory Willson was soundly defeated in the 174-pound bout, the dual was out of reach for the Lights.
UGF ripped off five straight victories, including Nick Budeski's domination of Chris Smith at 141 pounds. Not only did Smith lose the match, he lost his cool and Northern lost one of the only three team points it had on the board as Smith was slapped with an unsportsmanlike-conduct violation.
“That is something that should have never happened,” Troupe said. “It was a huge mistake on Chris's part and we expect better than that from our wrestlers.”
After Budeski's win, the Argos kept rolling. Seventh-ranked Jon Muri took apart Ty Aiken at 149 pounds, and Jon Casey upset Kole Tolliver at 157 pounds.
Jensen's final match in Havre didn't go according to plan either. He lost a hard-fought 6-1 decision to fourth-ranked Ryan Smith.
When Willson dropped a decision to fourth-ranked Mike Kummer, the dual was basically over as UGF held a commanding 24-2 lead.
In the final three matches, Northern would need pinfalls in order to have any chance of a comeback. Even though the Lights won the final three matches of the dual, it wasn't enough for a victory in the end.
Chad Seely, Mattingly and Brian Fritchman were the bright spots in an otherwise difficult night for the Lights' wrestling program.
Seely pinned Dan Gordon at 184 pounds, keeping the Lights' slim hopes alive. Even though Mattingly finished his home career with a thrilling 5-3 upset of sixth-ranked Marcus Andy at 197 pounds, the decision meant that Northern was too far behind to catch UGF. Fritchman finished the dual with a dominating 10-0 major decision over former Chinook state champion Eric Hinebauch.
“I am really proud of those three guys,” Troupe said. “Mattingly and Fritchman showed a lot of heart tonight. They both moved up a weight and they went out and got it done for us.
“But I am still very disappointed right now,” he added. “Coming off a win over Southern Oregon, I honestly believed we were going to beat UGF tonight and I think we were plenty capable of doing it. We just didn't wrestle very smart early on. That is not fair to the guys at the heavier weights because we were in such a hole, they had to go out and do something spectacular instead of just focusing on winning their matches.”
Said Van Kley: “I am really happy for our guys. I think we wrestled well. This dual came down to who the aggressor was. In the matches we won, we were the aggressor and in Northern's wins they were. Northern is a very good team so this win does a lot for us.”
Both the Lights and Argos will now prepare for the Northern Regional Tournament on Feb. 20. The tournament is the last chance for wrestlers to qualify for the NAIA National Tournament.
“I still think we're on the right track,” Troupe said. “We just have to rest up a little and then get back to work. And we have to get a little mentally tougher.”
Argos 24, Lights 14
125 - Forrest Bogue, UGF Tech. fall Zach Morgan, MSU-N, 19-2; 133 - Colt Heger, MSU-N dec. Ryan Montag, 12-5; 141 - Nick Budeski, UGF dec. Chris Smith, MSU-N, 6-2; 149 - Jon Muri, UGF Maj. dec. Ty Aiken, MSU-N, 12-2; 157 - Joe Casey, UGF pinned Kole Tolliver, MSU-N, 6:24; 165 - Ryan Smith, UGF dec. Aaron Jensen, MSU-N 6-1; 174 - Mike Kummer, UGF dec. Emory Willson, 8-2; 184 - Chad Seely, MSU-N pinned Dan Gordon, UGF, 4:38; 197 - Ryan Mattingly, MSU-N dec. Marcus Andy, UGF, 5-3; HWT - Brian Fritchman, MSU-N Maj. dec. Eric Hinebauch, UGF 10-0.