Class B: Minutemen's Riley Kopf pulls off upset against Hastings' Damen Pape in final seconds

After briefly taking the lead, Lexington's Riley Kopf fell behind 11-10 in the third period to Hastings' Damen Pape. As the seconds were ticking away, Kopf spotted an opening he had to take.

Two weeks ago, Riley Kopf was on the wrong end of a pin by Hastings sophomore Damen Pape.

Kopf scored the biggest reversal of Friday’s semifinals when the Lexington junior scored a two-point takedown in the final 10 seconds to defeat Pape 12-11 in their 170-pound bout.

While most in the near-sellout crowd at the CenturyLink Center figured Pape and Billy Higgins of Omaha Skutt would be the combatants in Saturday’s championship match, only Higgins successfully took care of his business.

So it will be Higgins and Kopf in the fourth Class B championship of Saturday’s program.

Kopf said he didn’t spend any time dwelling on his Feb. 3 loss to Pape at the Greater Nebraska Athletic Conference tournament. Nothing good would have come from focusing on the negative.

“I really didn’t think about it before the match,” Kopf said. “He’s much stronger than me. I’ve been the undersized guy all year, but I rely on my drive, technique and energy and work to make that outlast guys in the end.”

 Minutemen coach Karl Degenhardt said he and Kopf believed that formula could flip the script.

“We knew we were going to wrestle him tough,” Degenhardt said. “We didn’t know the outcome, but we knew that if he wrestled hard, anything was possible. It shows a lot of character for him to come back and get after it like he did. It shows a lot of heart.”

 Kopf made some strategic changes to help turn things around, but he still trailed Pape at the end of the first period.

Degenhardt said it came down to a basic premise in the final two periods.

“Basically it was just go out and compete,” Degenhardt said. “Everybody’s beatable on any given day. Just to get him to believe that, to get him to believe in himself and be confident, and I think that’s what it was.”

Kopf said he knew things could get better the longer the match went on after he started the second period on bottom and  got a reversal.

“When I turned him the first time, I thought to myself ‘I can do this,’” Kopf said. “That’s when I figured this might work out.”

After briefly taking the lead, Kopf fell behind 11-10 in the third period. As the seconds were ticking away, Kopf spotted an opening he had to take.

“I saw his left foot dragging so I knew if I timed it right I could get a blast single,” Kopf said. “I went for the one leg, and it worked.”

Getting Pape down in the final 15 seconds meant all Kopf had to do was hold his opponent off to reach the championship final. Kopf didn’t have one of the more demonstrative victory celebrations, but he was pleased how things turned out.

As for facing Higgins in Saturday’s final, Kopf said he’ll be prepared for the challenge and won’t spend much time dwelling on his Friday night accomplishment.

“I’m just going to focus on the next thing and not get fixated on what I’ve already done,” Kopf said. “There’s another match tomorrow.”

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