While Kaleb Puncochar was crouching like a panther, waiting for his shot to pounce, Evan Gideon patiently waited to make his own move.
That patience paid off for the Sargent/Burwell-Loup County senior Friday during the semifinals of the Class C state wrestling tournament.
Gideon scored the first takedown, allowing him to control the pace en route to a 3-1 victory over the Grand Island Central Catholic senior at the CenturyLink Center.
“I'm small enough and my stance is low enough, so when someone gets that low it doesn't bother me,” Gideon said. “It keeps me on my toes and always gets my attention.”
Gideon and Joseph Gilliam of O'Neill will have each other's full attention in Saturday's championship match. Gilliam pinned Drew Ratkovec at 2:55 to run his record to 40-3.
Every match will be big for O'Neill, as the Eagles lead the Class C team race by one point over David City heading into Saturday's matches.
It was a tough road back for Gideon, who missed track and baseball seasons last year as he recovered from nerve damage to his shoulder.
Gideon and Puncochar entered their semifinal bout with a combined record of 90-1. Neither had lost to a Nebraska opponent — Puncochar's loss was to one of the top wrestlers in Kansas.
It was Gideon who emerged with his 46th victory, just one win away from posting a perfect season after there was a real chance he might not have another.
Gideon finished fifth at 132 last season and was fourth at 120 pounds in 2012.
Gideon's father, Luke, said the work Evan put in during his recovery from the shoulder injury helped make the goal of returning to the mat a real option.
“He worked on strengthening his legs,” Luke Gideon said. “He could still go to the weight room. More than anything it made him realize that something he really enjoyed could be taken away just like that.”
Evan eventually was cleared to return for football. Then it was time to get back into the wrestling room.
“This could have been a lifelong injury if it didn't heal right and I didn't do everything they told me I needed to do,” Evan said.
He said his approach to the recovery process was like any wrestling match.
“I just had to get out there and finish my job,” Evan said. “I worked hard this season. Now I have a chance to finish on top.”
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Video: Sights and sounds from Friday at Nebraska state wrestling
Video: Sights and sounds from Thursday at Nebraska state wrestling