Fank's big win at 197 leads No. 2 Wartburg over No. 1 Augsburg, 21-13, in Div. III Battle of the Burgs

By Roger Moore, Special to TheMat.com | Feb. 01, 2018, 11:03 p.m. (ET)
Photo of Wartburg team after big win over Augsburg courtesy of Go-Knights.net

WAVERLY, Iowa – It wasn’t the greatest single-leg attack in the history of wrestling in Iowa. But Kyle Fank doesn’t care much about style points.

With the annual Battle of the Burgs hanging in the balance, Fank got to Augsburg’s Lance Benick’s leg and was not going to be denied.

“That kind of sums up what it is to fight, to not give up in a match,” said Wartburg head coach Eric Keller. “You wrestle for seven minutes.”

“Once I got to the leg I was going to finish that takedown,” Fank said.

Levick Hall, bursting at the seams with over 2,000 in attendance, erupted when Fank muscled his way to a 5-4 victory at 197 pounds. Trailing throughout against Benick, who started his career at Arizona State, Fank (13-0) took the pressure off Wartburg senior heavyweight Mike Evans, who put an exclamation point on a 21-13 win with a 28-second pin. It avenged the Knights’ loss to their rivals from early January at the National Duals.

“It feels great,” said Fank, a senior from nearby Independence, Iowa. “We turned some matches around, wrestled tougher than last time. We knew, even though we were down, that we were still in the dual. It’s a great dual to be a part of and to get that takedown at the end of my match … it felt really good.”

Augsburg (11-2) entered Thursday’s dual as the top-ranked squad in Division III. In that early January victory pins by 141-pounder David Flynn and 165-pounder Lucas Jeske sparked the Auggies to a 21-17 win.

The visitors again had the momentum early.

Ryan Epps locked up a cradle, then slipped on a tight half-nelson in a flurry of a second period that had the home fans pulling out their hair. It gave the Auggie sophomore an 8-4 lead after five minutes, a lead he extended to 10-5 midway through the final period and eventually a 10-6 victory over the previously unbeaten Logan Thomsen; the Knight senior and Epps entered the contest a combined 51-1 this season; it was Thomsen’s first loss in 25 matches.

Jeske (27-0) flipped Max Forsyth to his back early in the 165-pound bout and dominated throughout in a 13-2 major decision at 165 pounds. It provided the dual’s first bonus points and put the guests up 13-6 with four bouts to wrestle.

Wartburg (17-2), however, took over from there.

“You never feel comfortable in a dual like this,” said AU head coach Jim Moulsoff. “(Epps) gave up two takedowns at the beginning of his match, but he came back big. It shows you can’t give up, have to keep fighting. (At 197) we can’t let (Fank) to the leg. You have to give Kyle credit; he didn’t panic and knew what he had to do. He’s tough. We got off to a good start, but (Wartburg) battled all night.

“A lot of people would kill to get an opportunity to wrestle in a dual like this. It’s going to be a scrap when these teams go at it. We’ve got some work to do, plenty of season left for us to keep getting better.”

The hosts drew to 13-9 with 2017 NCAA champion Eric DeVoss’ 9-4 decision of Tanner Vassar at 174 pounds. A weight later it was senior Tyler Lutes (19-1), who controlled Sebastion Larson for a 6-3 decision. The win at 197 pounds put the Knights in good shape with an unbeaten senior heavyweight taking the mat.

Wartburg, who faces an unbeaten Loras squad next Friday with a 203 IIAC streak on the line, won six of the 10 bouts. Cross Cannone, 2017 NCAA runner-up, improved to 25-0 with a 6-2 decision over Alex Wilson at 149 pounds to go with the final four and 133-pounder Brock Rathbun.

AU’s Sam Bennyhoff drew first blood against an Iowa three-time state champion in Rathbun. But the Knight, a freshman, took a 3-2 lead after three minutes with a late takedown; halfway through the second period it was 6-2. Another takedown and Rathbun (16-5), who lost to Bennyhoff in their National Duals matchup, had enough down the stretch to pick up a big 9-6 victory and tie the dual at 3-3.

“That was a big match,” Keller said. “We wrestled a different match this time, Brock’s match. Turning that one around was big. It was big for (Rathbun) too.”

AU’s other wins came from Flynn, who could not find a third period takedown for that all-important major decision at 141 pounds, beating Brenden Baker, 9-3; and 125-pounder Victor Gliva, who improved to 24-4 in beating rookie Brady Kyner, 6-2, to start the night.

The head-to-head series in dual meets now shows the Iowans with a 19-16 advantage.

Prior to the Burg battle, high schools Waverly-Shell Rock of Iowa squared off with Minnesota’s Scott West. A last second takedown by Waverly-Shell Rock heavyweight Andrew Snyder brought the first crowd burst of the evening inside Levick Hall. The second, with the visitors up 27-10 late in the dual, was due to a strange – and rare occurrence – when a bat decided to enliven the festivities. No word as to whether he – or she – had a ticket or just decided to find some warmth away from a cold Iowa night.

In the end, it was the visitors from Minnesota who proved too much for Waverly-Shell Rock – and the bat – winning, 39-17.

During the high school meet, a small black, taped square in one of the corners brought many questions from onlookers. Actually, the legend of Jim Miller, and his honoring was no question to those in attendance. Before the old rivals hooked up and after the high school match, Wartburg removed the small black square unveiling “Jim Miller Championship Mat.” Miller addressed the crowd, acknowledging Wartburg donors Gary and Donna Hoover.

A Division II national champion at Northern Iowa in 1974 and ’75, Miller turned Wartburg College into the powerhouse it is today. Arriving in Waverly in 1991 Miller’s teams went 413-37-2 in dual meets and won 21 consecutive IIAC championships and 10 D3 titles. He retired from Wartburg in 2013, making way for Keller, a 1999 Northern Iowa graduate. Since taking over the program, he is 141-5 in duals with three national championships – Keller was co-head coach with Miller during the Knights’ 2011, 2012, and 2013 NCAA titles.

No. 2 Wartburg 21, No. 1 Augsburg 13
125-Victor Gliva (A) dec Brady Kyner, 6-2
133-Brock Rathbun (W) dec Sam Bennyhoff, 9-6
141-David Flynn (A) dec Brenden Baker, 10-3
149-Cross Cannone (W) dec Alex Wilson, 6-2
157-Ryan Epps (A) dec Logan Thomsen, 10-6
165-Lucas Jeske (A) maj dec Max Forsyth, 13-2
174-Eric DeVoss (W) dec Tanner Vassar, 9-4
184-Tyler Lutes (W) dec Sebastion Larson, 6-3
197-Kyle Fank (W) dec Lance Benick, 5-4
285-Lance Evans (W) pin Ethan Hofacker, :28