OKLAHOMA CITY — Throughout the first two days of the NCAA Championships, Iowa wrestling fans waited for the type of sights and sounds that surrounded them Friday night inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The scene had nearly everything they appreciate: a Hawkeye coming from behind in the third period to put an opponent on his back with the reverberation created by the slap of the mat.
One problem: It was Iowa coach Tom Brands on his belly, slapping the mat as the clock ticked down on Tony Ramos’ entry into the national finals, not the official.
The third-seeded Iowa senior took Edinboro’s A.J. Schopp to his back in the closing minute to score all of his points in a dramatic 5-1 victory in the NCAA semifinals.
“He was stuck, but oh well,” said Ramos, who will tangle with Wisconsin’s Tyler Graff in tonight’s title bout. “I stayed on him and finished the period strong, finished on top with him on his back. That’s a dominating finish.”
It was something the Hawkeyes haven’t felt enough during the tournament. Iowa went 1-2 in the semifinals after a 3-3 quarterfinal round and finished the day in fourth place with 67 points, 24 behind first-place Penn State.
“I think it goes without saying that we didn’t come here to be in fourth place, 20 points behind or more at the end of the second day,” Brands said with a raspy voice.
Penn State, Minnesota and Oklahoma State took turns at the top of the standings before finishing the day in that order. The Nittany Lions are clinging to a half-point lead over the Gophers heading into Saturday’s consolation semifinals while a 4-for-4 semifinal round kept the Cowboys within 3.5 of the lead.
Bonus points are one reason the Hawkeyes are virtually out of title contention. Iowa is still looking for its first fall of the tournament, although the Hawkeyes thought they had two Friday night.
After Ramos nearly decked Schopp, Iowa junior Mike Evans put Oklahoma State defending national champion Chris Perry in danger in the closing seconds of overtime before dropping a 3-2 decision in a controversy-filled 174-pound semifinal.
Evans scored the only takedown in the bout, but Perry forced overtime with a punishing third-period rideout and then held on for his title life in an attempt to stave off the winning takedown.
“I’ve been there about five times and you just don’t want to be there,” said Perry, who rode out Evans in the 30-second tiebreaker to win. “It’s big risk, big reward. If I get pinned, I lose. But you’ve got to hang on and they rewarded me. I didn’t give up the takedown and didn’t lose the match. Was I in danger? Yeah, absolutely. I can feel where I’m at and I can’t be in those situations.”
Iowa lost touch with the leaders during the morning quarterfinal round when Cory Clark (125), defending NCAA champ Derek St. John (157) and Nathan Burak (197) dropped decisions. All three won matches Friday night to secure a spot on the awards podium. They’ll be joined in the medal round by heavyweight Bobby Telford, who dropped a 4-1 decision in the semifinals against two-time NCAA champion Tony Nelson of Minnesota.
St. John became the 18th wrestler in Iowa history to earn all-America status four times after dropping an 11-4 decision in the quarterfinals against Cornell freshman Brian Realbuto. But Iowa’s title hopes were extinguished when the Hawkeyes lost four of their 10 tournament participants in the afternoon consolation session.
Ramos appeared as if his career might end in the consolation bracket. Though the match was scoreless on the board in the third period, Schopp held a two-minute riding time advantage when the clock ticked under a minute.
The second-seeded Edinboro junior fought off a series of Ramos attacks in the first period and early in the third. But Ramos went to one of his rarely used tricks, knocking Schopp off balance with a footsweep and following it up with a single leg. It led to a flurry on the edge of the mat that left Schopp on his back.
“How he did it, there’s a lot of drama, a lot of excitement,” Brands said. “He got a lot of people fired up.”