DEKALB, IL - The Buffalo Bulls won a conference- and program-best four individual titles and finished third only to champion Central Michigan and Kent State at the Mid American Conference Championship Sunday afternoon.
The third-place finish is tied for the best in program history. The team will also send at least five wrestlers to the NCAA tournament, another program best. John-Martin Cannon also became the first Bull wrestler to ever win Outstanding Wrestler, capping a record-shattering day for the program.
The run of titles began at 141 pounds, with Andrew Schutt beating Central Michigan's Scott Mattingly in sudden-victory overtime, 6-1. After a scoreless first period, Mattingly earned the lead on an escape. The 1-0 lead carried over to the third period, when Schutt tied it with an escape of his own. A potential game-winning penalty point for Schutt was waved off, pushing the match to overtime. Schutt just missed a pin but wound up with a takedown and three near-fall points to win it 6-1.
"He had to wrestle through some adversity but he came out of it," said head coach Jim Beichner. "People call him a gunslinger – he's dangerous and in overtime he almost pinned him. What a great story, he came in here and did a great job."
Next up was junior Desi Green, looking to become the team's first back-to-back MAC champ since Mark Budd in 2006 and 2007. The Henrietta, NY native used an early takedown and took a 2-1 lead in to the third period against Central Michigan's Donnie Corby. An escape sealed the deal and a 3-1 win. Green will now head to the NCAA tournament for the third straight year, the second wrestler to do so under Beichner.
"Desi has turned into an all-around great wrestler," Beichner said. "He's a two-time MAC champ and he could probably become the all-time wins leader at Buffalo. He's breaking all the records and doing all the right stuff."
Despite the title, Beichner knows Green is capable of so much more, adding "he just needs to know that he has a lot left to accomplish. He's a guy that wants to be an All-American, not just an all-time wins leader. That should be just a bonus."
The streak of titles continued with Mark Lewandowski versus Northern Illinois' Bryan Deutsch at 157 pounds. It promised to be a thriller and it lived up to every expectation, with Lewandowski beating the Huskies senior in a come-from-behind win. After leading 4-1 through the first period, Lewandowski found himself in trouble in the second, getting reversed and giving up two near-fall points to trail 5-4 heading to the third. After giving up two more near-fall points, Lewandowski reversed Deutsch before being reversed himself and facing a 9-6 deficit midway through the period. After making an escape, the Depew, NY sophomore took down Deutsch and scored riding time to win the title.
"Mark had a lead and lost it because he wrestles a very funky way. It was a back-and-forth match and was one of the most exciting matches of the day, probably the weekend," Beichner said. "For him to show as much courage as he did to make that last-second takedown and ride him out was just phenomenal. He has been wrestling so well lately that I'm just so pleased for him."
Hoping to win the team's fourth-straight individual title, John-Martin Cannon took on number one seed Mike Miller of Central Michigan. A takedown put him up 2-1 after one period, but Miller used an escape and a takedown to go up 4-3 through two periods. Not ready to go quietly, Cannon used an escape and a late takedown in the last ten seconds of the match to win 6-5. For his effort in beating the top two seeds en route to his first career title, Cannon was named the Most Outstanding Wrestler.
"He was just ready and he was outstanding," Beichner said. "Here is a guy that wrestled 19 or more of the top 33 guys in the country, probably one of the toughest schedules in the country. He comes out here and found a way to win a MAC championship seeded third."
Aside from the four titles, Buffalo placed nine total wrestlers in the top four, another program record. Kevin Smith beat NIU's Kevin Fanta 4-2 in sudden victory overtime to claim third at 133 pounds. He still has NCAA tournament hopes but must wait for the wildcard announcements to decide his postseason fate. Sean Walton lost a tough 3-2 decision to Central Michigan's Christian Cullinan to place fourth and Jimmy Hamel ended his career in Buffalo with a fourth-place finish at 184 pounds.
While waiting for wildcard announcements, the five Buffalo wrestlers will prepare for the national tournament with each vying for an All-American classification. The tournament will run March 17-19.
"Our assistant coaches did a phenomenal job this year. Frank Beasley and Ricky Deubel had our guys ready to go. They were all in great shape and physically healthy. A lot of the credit should go to them," Beichner said. "I think we did really good things. I'm proud of every single guy on my team. They put forth strong efforts and gave us a chance to win this tournament."
"Most importantly, we were here to get national qualifiers and we've never had more than four but we're leaving today with five and hopefully one more," he added. We've never had more than eight place - today we had nine place. We did some things this week that were special, things that I will never forget."
Final Team Standings
1. 79.0 Central Michigan
2. 73.5 Kent State
3. 69.5 Buffalo
4. 41.5 Ohio
5. 39.5 Northern Illinois
6. 14.0 Eastern Michigan