The Northern Illinois University wrestling team saw its season come to an end Friday in Oklahoma City, Okla., as seniors Nick Smith (Ida, Mich./Ida) and Rob Jillard (Franklinville, N.J./Delsea Regional) dropped consolation matches to seeded opponents at the NCAA championships.
Smith suffered a close 10-7 defeat against No. 10 Nick Soto of Chattanooga, while Jillard lost to eighth-seeded Dave Habat in a 13-3 major decision.
Smith gave Soto all he could handle and then some. The Huskie got on the board first with a takedown in the first 45 seconds for an early 2-0 lead.
However, Soto countered with an escape and then took the lead when an official review credited the Moc with a takedown. Smith tied the match at 3-3 as time wound down in the first period, but Soto scored on a reversal to go back up, 5-3, early in the second period.
Undaunted, the Ida, Mich., native tied the match again with a reversal, but surrendered a crucial escape as time expired in the second period. Smith moved into a 7-6 lead with a reversal in the third period, only to have Soto escape his clutches again, putting the tally at 7-7 with time winding down in regulation. It was Soto, though, who scored the deciding points, getting a takedown with 10 seconds left and hang on for the win.
“It was a barnburner,” said NIU head coach Ryan Ludwig. “The kid is a scrambler and a very good wrestler, (but) so is Nick. There were a couple situations there where we had some opportunities to tie the match. We had our opportunities nonetheless and the other guy came out on top today.”
“I’m unbelievably proud of Nick and proud of what he’s done for us in his career. I couldn’t ask for a better student-athlete to be in our program. We’re proud of his effort and what he was able to show this year.”
Jillard kept the high-scoring Habat at bay for most of the first period, but a takedown and two-point nearfall put the Huskie in a 4-0 hole early. The Franklinville, N.J., native finished the first stanza with an escape, but the Fighting Scot’s onslaught of takedowns were too much to handle, bringing his season and career to an end.
“Rob tried to get his offense going, but was shut down by some good defense,” Ludwig said. “The other guy rode on top and things weren’t going his way today. Once he got on his feet and put together an attack, he was the victim of some good defense.”
“Rob left it all out on the mat. He’s a guy that was consistent and stable for us in the lineup – a guy we could always rely on, which is extremely important. He was a constant in the lineup for us and a dependable guy.”
For more information on NIU wrestling and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.