Last February, the Montana State University-Northern wrestling team rode a tidal wave of momentum and emotion to a much-needed win over the UGF Argos in Havre.
Less than eight months later, on the same mat, the Lights did it again.
Northern won four straight matches from 165-197 pounds, and got a decisive pin from red-shirt freshman Toby Cheff as the seventh-ranked Lights knocked off the sixth-ranked Argos 21-20 Tuesday night at the Armory Gymnasium in Havre.
And in a dual both Northern head coach Tyson Thivierge and UGF head man Caleb Schaeffer knew would be close, Cheff’s pin of Dylan Lemery turned out to be the difference. Northern trailed UGF 16-15 as Cheff and Lemery took to the mat for their 197-pound bout. And with UGF star heavyweight Siers Tiernan waiting on deck, the Lights needed bonus points from Cheff to make certain they would complete the comeback win against the Argos.
And though a pin wasn’t his sole focus, that’s exactly what Cheff got early in the second period as he rolled over the top of Lemery, and put him to his back for the dramatic, dual-clinching victory.
“My coaches told me to just go out and wrestle smart and make sure I got the win,” Cheff said. “But I really like pinning people so I was going after it, and I knew those bonus points would be important for us. So I wanted to get the pin, but at the same time, I had to make sure I didn’t get sloppy in trying to get it. I had to be patient and wrestle smart and that’s what I tried to do.
“Toby Cheff wrestled a really smart match,” Thivierge added. “He wrestled a great match, and those bonus points were big. Toby is a really funky wrestler. Just when you think you’ve got him, all of a sudden he has you on your back and you’re in big trouble.
“I am really proud of our guys,” Thivierge continued. “I think they went out and were a little too amped up and we had to calm some of them down. But everyone wrestled really hard and for the most part, really smart, and they really hung tough. I’d like it to be a little more decisive than it was. But with how much depth UGF has, and with us having closed the gap some, I don’t think these duals between us are ever not going to be close like this anymore.”
The Lights were actually in a little bit of jeopardy after former Havre Blue Pony great Myles Mazurkiewicz started a string of three straight wins for the Argos. Mazurkiewicz, the top-ranked 141-pounder in the NAIA, pinned seventh-ranked Hunter Azure in a wild match which saw Azure nearly pin Mazurkiewicz in the waning seconds of the first period. And teammates Ryan Martin (149) and Mike Vassar (157), both of whom moved up a weight in place of injured star Ryan Leonard, followed with key victories to give UGF a commanding 16-6 lead.
Things got even scarier for the Lights when top-ranked Ethan Hinebauch found himself trailing UGF’s Shaun Lau 6-4 with just :10 left in the third period of their 165-pound bout. But Hinebauch put a sweet head move on Lau and managed to take him down to the mat just before time expired, bringing a raucous Northern crowd to its feet, and keeping the Lights’ hopes alive with a 9-6 win in the process.
“I just looked up and realized I was down by two points,” Hinebauch said. “I realized I had to do something and I couldn’t waste any time. So I just went for it. It wasn’t the prettiest win, but I got it, and that’s how the dual went for us tonight. It wasn’t the prettiest dual, but everybody really wrestled hard and we managed to get enough bonus points to make a big difference.”
Hinebauch’s dramatic win gave the Lights some much-needed momentum, and Max Payne and Kody Reed took it and ran with it. Payne was technically proficient in a hard-fought, 10-8 win over UGF’s Brock Picard at 174 pounds, while Reed dug himself out of a 4-2 third-period deficit to beat Adam Wolfe at 184. The close wins were huge for the Lights considering both Payne and Reed were facing un-ranked opponents, and considering the Lights needed every single point they could get to mount a comeback against a very good UGF squad.
“We made our share of mistakes tonight,” Cheff, a two-time Class A state champion from Ronan said. “And so did they (Argos). But I thought everybody did a good job of just wrestling through it. We’re a pinning team, and that’s what we want to go after. We want those bonus points. But we also knew we had to wrestle smart tonight, and I thought everybody did a good job of doing that.”
And with his team trailing by one point, Cheff did wrestle smart and took care of the rest by pinning Lemery, while freshman heavyweight Tucker Erickson fought off Tiernan’s attempts at a pin, losing 16-4, which was enough to preserve the one-point Northern victory.
“We’re pretty dangerous from 165-197,” Thivierge said. “Those guys are our pinners, and that’s where we were hoping to get our bonus points tonight. We didn’t get as many as we would have liked, and you have to give a lot of credit to Caleb (Schaeffer) for that. He had his team really well prepared for us, and I thought they (Argos) wrestled really smart and really hard against us. Fortunately, we got two pins and that was enough. It was a great dual though and it was very exciting.”
Northern’s first pin came by way of another former Ronan star, as Cameron Neiss wasted little time in dispatching UGF’s Eric Bergerson. Neiss gave the Lights a 6-3 lead by putting Bergerson on his back just :31 into the first period. The win came on the heels of Duell Stadel’s close, 5-3 loss to UGF’s Danny Luttrell at 125 pounds.
“Both Duell and Cam are wrestling really well right now,” Thivierge said. “So those matches went about how we thought they would. Duell has really been wrestling well and he nearly pulled that one out against a really great wrestler in Danny Luttrell. And what can you say about Cam, he’s just been on fire lately.”
And that’s kind of how the night could be summed up– two great teams, with great wrestlers, on fire. Whether it was pins by Neiss and Cheff, big wins from Mazurkiewicz, Hinebauch and Ryan Martin, all former Class A state champions, and all the other great matches, the Lights and Argos waged the type of battle Tuesday night everyone was hoping to see.
“Can’t say enough about the job Toby Cheff and Cameron Neiss did tonight,” Hinebauch said. “The biggest difference was those two pins, because UGF only got one pin, and that was the difference. And I thought all our guys wrestled really hard and really stepped up.
“This feels awesome,” Cheff said. “It was a great dual, with a lot of great matches. Our guys wrestled really hard and so did they (Argos). And no matter how we had to do it, it feels great to come out with the win.”
The Lights and Argos will have a rematch when they meet again Feb. 6 in Great Falls. The Lights have just one home dual left, which will take place Jan. 16 when they host Western Wyoming.
Lights 21, UGF 20
125 – Danny Luttrell, UGF dec. Duell Stadel, MSU-N, 5-3; 133 – Cameron Neiss, MSU-N pinned Eric Bergerson, UGF, :31; 141 – Myles Mazurkiewicz, UGF pinned Hunter Azure, MSU-N, 3:20; 149 – Ryan Martin, UGF maj. dec. Trevor Goss, MSU-N, 12-3; 157 – Mike Vassar, UGF dec. Mickey Cheff, MSU-N, 7-5; 165 – Ethan Hinebauch, MSU-N dec. Shaun Lau, UGF, 9-6; 174 – Max Payne, MSU-N dec. Brock Picard, UGF, 10-8; 184 – Kody Reed, MSU-N dec. Adam Wolfe, UGF, 6-4; 197 – Toby Cheff, MSU-N pinned Dylan Lemery, UGF, 3:55; HWT – Siers Tiernan, UGF maj. dec. Tucker Erickson, MSU-N, 16-4.
Mat Facts: The Lights have now won two in a row over UGF and two straight in Havre. However, Northern hasn’t lost to the Argos in the Armory Gymnasium since the 2009 season, since MSU-N and UGF also tied each other in the 2010 meeting. Mazurkiewicz capped off a brilliant wrestling career in his hometown Tuesday night as he’s in his final year as an Argo. While at Havre High, he earned two Class A titles, and two runner-up finishes, and he’s already a three-time NAIA All-American. Between the Lights and Argos, 10 different grapplers who competed Tuesday night have a combined 21 Montana high school state championships.