By PATRICK SLACK
A year ago, Little Falls clinched a trip to the state wrestling tournament with four consecutive falls to close the Section 8AAA finals.
This year, however, the second-seeded Flyers ran into an opponent equally strong in the upper weights in top-seeded Moorhead, dropping a 37-28 heartbreaker at home, Feb. 16.
Only four bouts were decided by decisions, but it would have been hard to tell throughout, as each team had multiple chances to record or prevent crucial bonus points in the tight contest.
The excitement kicked off in the opening dual at 106 pounds, as Moorhead sophomore Grant Brendemuhl erased a 4-3 deficit in the third with an escape and last-minute takedown to give Moorhead an early 3-0 team lead.
The Spuds followed with a pin at 113 before eighth-grader Josh Beack put Little Falls on the board with a pin in 2:43 at 120.
At 126, it was the Flyers’ turn to pull out a come-from-behind win, as freshman Justin Jenks secured an escape to tie the score, then a takedown to the back to prevail with a 10-6 win, tying the dual at 9-9.
Moorhead junior Kenny Mark took an early 4-0 lead at 132, then held off numerous near-fall attempts to earn a 4-2 win.
Little Falls answered with three key wins in a row to build its largest lead at 22-12 as sophomore Axel Lange earned a 13-5 major decision, senior Connor Scherping delivered a fall and senior Jordan Petrone eked out a 6-5 win.
However, Moorhead reached the heart of its lineup starting at 160, and while Little Falls was able to avoid giving up pins in the next three weights, the Spuds were able to take a 25-22 advantage.
Defending state champion senior Chase Morlock followed with a pin at 195, putting Moorhead ahead 31-22 with two weights remaining.
Entering the bout at 220, it appeared Moorhead senior Tom Wychor would likely need a win, as the Flyers had senior Conor Swanson looming at 285 and the tiebreaker in hand.
Wychor trailed 4-3 entering the third, but fought back with three turns and a fall, clinching the title for Moorhead.
Swanson picked up his third fall of the day at 285 to close the match.
“It was a wild dual,” Little Falls head coach Mike Hendrickson said. “I would love to rewrestle it. My guys were very disappointed. They invested a lot and were very deserving of a trip to state. I feel bad for them all.”
“Kapphahn wrestled well considering he was out for four weeks after his surgery,” Hendrickson said. “Beack came through again with a pin, as did Scherping and Swanson.”
“Justin Jenks had a big one,” he said. “He lost last time in overtime. That big win fired up Mushel and he had an exceptional match. He was majored last time and he was an eyelash away from winning this time.”
“Yorek, Gastecki and Reis fought hard through the meat of their order,” he said.
Moorhead 37, Little Falls 28
106: Brendemuehl (M) 6-4. 113: Tallakson (M) F 5:09. 120: Josh Beack (LF) F 2:40. 126: Justin Jenks (LF) 10-6. 132: Mark (M) 4-2. 138: Axel Lange (LF) 13-5. 145: Connor Scherping (LF) F 0:54. 152: Jordan Petrone (LF) 6-5. 160: Grove (M) 16-0. 170: Carpenter (M) 14-2. 182: Wheeler (M) 15-7. 195: Morlock (M) F 0:22. 220: Wychor (M) F 5:34. 285: Conor Swanson (LF) F 1:59.