HARLAN, Iowa — It hasn’t been a typical season for the Creston/Orient-Macksburg wrestling team.

Between 10 guys who had never wrestled varsity in the mix and a couple of injuries along the way, longtime coach Darrell Frain has never quite known what to expect from the Panthers from night to night.

And yet here they are, sitting atop the Hawkeye Ten Conference once again.

The Panthers captured at least a share of the conference title for the 12th time Tuesday night with a 37-31 victory over Council Bluffs Lewis Central at Harlan High School.

Fittingly, the dual went up and down and back and forth in ways that were both expected and unexpected until the very end. Newcomers came through, veterans were upset, and some matches didn’t go as planned, but the Panthers still finished on top.

“We had a lot of upsets,” Frain said. “The whole night was that way. We had some matches that we wrestled hard, and we stepped up and won, so I’m excited for all of those guys.”

After Lewis Central’s Ryan Higgins drew first blood with a 13-7 decision over Kolby Tomas at 160 pounds, the Panthers took control by scoring pins in four of the next six matches, courtesy of Beau Barncastle (170), Sam Chapman (182), Trevor Kinyon (220) and Blake Sevier (285).

Barncastle’s first-period fall over L.C.’s Willy Waugh was the first one that Frain wasn’t banking on, and L.C. coach Doug Kjeldgaard didn’t expect it, either.

“I think there were some weights where maybe we gave up more points than we needed,” Kjeldgaard said. “I think we could have kept it a lot closer. When it’s within six points, every team point matters.”

Lewis Central senior Brock Bortolotti (Class 3-A No. 9 at 195) delivered a quick pin between the wins by Chapman and Kinyon, and freshman Tanner Wink followed suit at 106 to trim the lead to nine. Fellow freshman lightweight Taber Dominguez came through with another fall to bring the Titans within six.

The Panthers got a major decision from a freshman in Garon Wurster at 120, but then L.C. sophomore Tanner Higgins held off freshman Kolby Hulett in a 7-4 decision at 126.

With Creston/O-M leading 28-22, a pair of seniors rose to the occasion and propelled the Panthers past the finish line.

First, Kelby Luther pinned Nick Wolf to push the lead back to six. Then Cade Vicker upset Kyle Kuckta by 8-2 decision to put the match out of reach and render the last two matches moot.

“I knew that we had it pretty well wrapped it up, and I didn’t change anything.” Vicker said.

The senior credited the team’s somewhat unanticipated success to its work ethic, and the support of its crowd.

“We’re pretty young, but we work hard in the room every day, and we’ve got one of the best crowds in Iowa,” he said. “Home or away, they just come and support us, and it just helps us out a lot. You always hear them.” 

The Panthers (9-1 in Hawkeye Ten duals competition) had put themselves in position to clinch a share of the title with a 60-15 win over Harlan. The Titans (8-2) had put themselves in the same position with a 44-30 win over Harlan.

If Atlantic/CAM falls Thursday in its final conference double dual to either Shenandoah or St. Albert, then Creston/O-M is the sole champion. Otherwise, the Panthers and Trojans will share the crown.

After the result was sealed, the Titans got a cathartic consolation prize in the form of a dramatic 4-3 decision by Gabe Kjeldgaard (Class 3-A No. 7 at 145) over Creston’s lone ranked grappler, Mitchel Swank (2-A No. 3).

“For Gabe to just keep wrestling and come back in the end, get a takedown and keep his composure, I can’t say enough about that,” Coach Kjeldgaard said of his son’s performance. “That was fantastic.

“I’m pretty proud of the team tonight. We wrestled pretty well. I think if a few things go another way, then we win that dual.”

160: Ryan Higgins, LC, dec. Kolby Tomas, 13-7. 170: Beau Barncastle, Creston, pinned Willy Waugh. 182: Sam Chapman, Creston, pinned Dylan Koch. 195: Brock Bortolotti, LC, pinned Dale Boyer. 220: Trevor Kinyon, C/O-M, pinned Hayden Hatcher. 285: Blake Sevier, C/O-M, pinned Zachary McColligan. 106: Tanner Wink, LC, pinned Ethan Freeman. 113: Taber Dominguez, LC, major dec. Kaden Bolton, 11-2. 120: Garon Wurster, C/O-M, major dec. Brian Paul, 11-0 (or 9-0). 126: Tanner Higgins, LC, dec. Kolby Hulett, 7-4. 132: Kelby Luther, C/O-M, pinned Nick Wolf. 138: Cade Vicker, C/O-M, dec. Kyle Kutckta. 145: Gabe Kjeldgaard, LC, dec. Mitchel Swank, 4-3. 152: Caleb Kingery, LC, pinned Rylan Luther.

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