WAVERLY – T.J. Miller knew all about the streak.
Wartburg College’s impressive 26-year, 220-match conference dual meet winning streak.
Miller wrestled for Wartburg, won a national title for the Knights and served as an assistant coach at his alma mater.
His teams never lost a conference dual.
But on Friday night, Miller was on a different side of history.
Miller’s third-ranked Loras College Duhawks did something no other conference wrestling team has done since Feb. 10, 1994.
Knock off the powerful Wartburg Knights.
Loras stormed into Levick Arena on Friday night and knocked off the top-ranked Knights, earning a hard-fought 19-17 win before a boisterous sellout crowd of 1,800 fans.
The win gave Loras the American Rivers Conference championship. The Duhawks finished 8-0 in league duals. Loras last beat Wartburg during the 1991-92 season.
The Duhawks finished second at the 2019 national tournament and were ranked No. 1 in the preseason.
“We had our own banner day,” T.J. Miller said. “We didn’t have any banners and enough was enough. This is an incredible win. It’s huge for our program and huge for recruiting. We showed it can be done. You can win at Loras.”
Wartburg saw its streak of 27 consecutive conference wrestling titles come to an end.
“Obviously, I’m heartbroken for these guys and these coaches,” Wartburg coach Eric Keller said. “This dual doesn’t define this program or this team either. The fight was there. There were a lot of different ways that could’ve went and you obviously can’t give up bonus points in duals like that. Every point matters. It’s hard to lose like that.”
Each team won five bouts, but a dramatic pin by Brandon Murray early in the third period at 157 pounds ultimately enabled the Duhawks to prevail.
Loras earned key wins at 141 and 149 that proved pivotal.
Sixth-ranked Clint Lembeck rallied by scoring six third-period points to knock off No. 4 Brady Fritz 6-3 at 141. Fritz led 2-0 and looked to be in control after the first five minutes.
“Lembeck dug down deep,” Miller said. “We wanted him to pick top in the third period and the rest is history. He went to work and got the near fall and rode the guy out. That’s where Clint is at his best. He really came through for us.”
Daniel Ruiz of Loras followed with a 4-2 overtime win over 2018 national champion Brock Rathbun at 149. Rathbun shot in on a takedown attempt in sudden victory before Ruiz won a scramble to gain the winning points.
“That was a gutsy win,” Miller said. “Ruiz just joined our team and he won a big match.”
Murray then earned a fall over Shea Hartzler at 157.
The Knights fought back when sixth-ranked Max Forsyth delivered a much-needed win. He held off No. 3 Eddie Smith 7-5 at 165. Forsyth cradled Smith to his back for a four-point near fall in the second period.
Following a win by Jacob Krakow of Loras at 174, Wartburg’s second-ranked Kyle Briggs put on a show in cruising to 14-4 major decision over No. 8 Shane Liegel at 184.
That cut the Loras lead to 15-14 entering the final two matches.
But top-ranked senior Guy Patron delivered to essentially clinch the win for the Duhawks.
The powerful Patron headlocked No. 3 Kobe Woods to his back with a six-point move early in the bout at 197. Patron nearly pinned Woods again late in the match before prevailing 14-0.
Referee Curt Frost slapped the mat right as time expired in the 197 bout and the Loras bench jumped to its feet in celebration.
But the pin was eventually waved off when it was determined Frost had slapped the mat after time ran out.
Patron, a senior, has been one of the cornerstones in Loras’ climb to national prominence.
“This was a big win for us. – it’s another steppingstone for our program,” Patron said. “Wartburg has been on a top for a long time and this has been a goal of ours for a while. We knew we had to come in here and fight and wrestle tough. It was a great dual and our guys really came through. It’s great to win that trophy and win the conference, but we have bigger goals we want to accomplish in the postseason.
Down 19-14 entering the final bout, the Knights needed a miraculous finish to keep their dual meet streak alive.
Wartburg instead finished with a win as heavyweight Jordan Brandon won a tough 3-1 overtime match against Wyatt Wriedt.
The Knights took charge with two victories to kick off the dual meet.
Wartburg’s Brady Kyner struck for an early takedown en route to a 6-2 win over Matt Randone to kick off the dual at 125.
Top-ranked Kris Rumph struck for a four-point move in the final seconds to score an 11-3 major decision over Mason McMillen at 133.
Wartburg and Loras will meet again in two weeks at the regional tournament in Dubuque.
“You can dwell on this and let it tear you down. Or you can get better and fix the things we did wrong,” Keller said. “We try to get better every week and we have a lot of room to grow. We’re not there yet. We’re trying to get there. That’s the goal, to get there by the end.”
Miller shares a similar perspective.
“It’s going to be a great battle in the postseason between us, Wartburg and Augsburg. All three teams are really strong plus there are some other good teams who will be in there,” Miller said. “It’s going to be a dogfight in the postseason. We still have a lot of work to do. We’re going to celebrate and enjoy this tonight, and then we need to get back to work and prepare for the postseason.”
Keller was asked to put into perspective how impressive Wartburg’s long winning streak was.
“It’s incredible,” Keller said. “This is a special place. It’s a unique place that changes guys’ lives. That’s ultimately the goal of what I do every day is change lives. Obviously, we want to win and we have won. And we will continue to win.
“There are a lot of heartbroken people out there. We’re going to go back to work and obviously there are things we need to get better at. And we will do that.”
125 – Brady Kyner (Wartburg) dec. Matt Randone, 6-2.
133 – Kris Rumph (Wartburg) dec. Mason McMillen, 11-3.
141 – Clint Lembeck (Loras) dec. Brady Fritz, 6-3.
149 – Daniel Ruiz (Loras) dec. Brock Rathbun, 4-2 SV.
157 – Brandon Murray (Loras) pinned Shea Hartzler, 5:13.
165 – Max Forsyth (Wartburg) dec. Eddie Smith (Loras), 7-5.
174 – Jacob Krakow (Loras) dec. Paul Calo, 8-2.
184 – Kyle Briggs (Wartburg) dec. Shane Liegel, 14-4.
197 – Guy Patron (Loras) dec. Kobe Woods, 14-0.
Hwt. – Jordan Brandon (Wartburg) dec. Wyatt Wriedt, 3-1 SV.