EAST LANSING Throughout the Michigan wrestling team”s meet against hated Michigan State, Jenison Field House was dripping with intensity. You could see it in the blood spilling from the gash below Michigan senior captain Joe DeGain”s eye. You could see it in the ferocity with which Michigan heavyweight Matt Brink and Michigan State”s Wally Lamb smacked each other”s faces.
And if you listened hard, through the deafening noise of the crowd, you could hear it in the thud of Michigan sophomore A. J. Grant”s head hitting the mat, the victim of a Chris Williams form tackle.
In a marathon battle marked by four consecutive overtime matches, the sixth-ranked Wolverines (1-2 Big Ten, 11-3-1 overall) outlasted the eight-ranked Spartans (1-1, 5-3), 20-12. Michigan was demolished 29-6 by No. 1 Minnesota on Friday night, but the win over the Spartans salvaged a brutal weekend.
“I was concerned with how we were going to compete because we were a little down coming off of that loss to Minnesota,” Michigan coach Joe McFarland said. “We didn”t compete well up there at all. We didn”t come out with the kind of fire and intensity that you need to knock off the No. 1 team in the country, and Minnesota proved why they”re No. 1.”
But that fire and intensity was more than evident on Sunday.
During introductions, the Spartans came out oozing excitement, gesturing to the raucous crowd and feeding off of that energy. But Michigan didn”t hesitate to quiet those clad in green and white.
DeGain commenced the day”s festivities by dominating No. 11 Nik Fekete at 197 pounds. Bleeding profusely throughout the match, the only things that slowed DeGain were the frequent timeouts needed to wipe off the blood.
In a match that may as well have been a streetfight, heavyweight Matt Brink proceeded to keep the ball rolling for the Wolverines. After three periods of pushing, hitting, cross-facing and stalling penalties, Brink scored a takedown just eight seconds into overtime to put away Matt Lamb and to give Michigan a 6-0 advantage.
In keeping with the sheer competitiveness of the afternoon, none of the next three matches could be decided in three periods, either. But to Michigan”s chagrin, the outcomes at 125, 133 and 141 all fell in the Spartans” favor.
“Those overtime matches are tough on coaches,” McFarland said. “I couldn”t tell you the last time I saw that happen.”
The fact that Grant, Clark Forward and Foley Dowd all lost and the sheer volume with which the Spartan faithful responded made the experience even harder for McFarland to stomach.
“I was concerned because we lost three overtime matches in a row, and I was concerned because we were in position to win all three of them,” McFarland said. “It”s just some positioning things we need to work on, but we need to do a better job of winning those matches.”
Despite the setbacks, Michigan”s upper weight classes managed to secure the victory, and fittingly, senior captain Otto Olson recorded the deciding points with a 14-6 major decision over Nate Mesyn at 174 pounds.
For his final takedown, Olson viciously slammed Mesyn into the mat, burying his opponent”s face in the rubber.
The image of Olson towering over Mesyn”s motionless body epitomized the emotions associated with the match.
“This is always a great duel, always physical, always intense,” McFarland said.
“I”ve got confidence in our whole team,” DeGain added. “If someone drops a match, someone else will be there to step up and make up for it.”
After Sunday, DeGain has all the more reason to harbor that confidence.