While an upset of top-ranked Oklahoma State simply wasn't in the cards, Sunday was still a day Kent State wrestlers and fans won't soon forget.
The Golden Flashes fell to the powerhouse Cowboys 34-10, but bounced back to rout No. 18 Wisconsin 33-10 in the third-place dual of the NWCA Cliff Keen Regional, part of the national dual-meet tournament held for the first time at the M.A.C. Center.
Senior Dustin Kilgore, unbeaten and ranked No. 1 at 197 pounds, went out with a bang by knocking off a pair of top-20 opponents during his final meet in Kent. After defeating No. 9 Blake Rosholt of Oklahoma State 12-3 in his opener, the only wrestling national champion in Golden Flashes history ended his home career appropriately by pinning No. 18 Jackson Hein of Wisconsin with a patented second-period cradle at 4:56.
"It was a great feeling," said Kilgore, after notching his school record-tying 17th pin of the season, which leads the nation. "It was really exciting because of the environment we had. It's something we've never done before. This was four great teams wrestling and going at it, we had a huge crowd, fans were all riled up. They came here looking for some good matches, and I think they found some."
Kilgore (36-0) himself was looking for some competition, which has been hard to come by. He is now 36-0 with 29 bonus-point victories this season, and has now won 55 consecutive matches,
"Those were two awesome matches. It was exciting," said Kilgore. "I was looking forward to those matches. I went in the with the mindset that I want to dominate. That's the way I approach every match."
Flashes coach Jim Andrassy was pleased to see his star go out with a pin that brought a sizable crowd to its feet.
"Name a better athlete in the history of Kent State to leave here," Andrassy said. "Dustin's already won a national championship, if he doesn't win another one I'll be surprised. It was great having him in the gym and in this event this week. He will be missed."
Fellow senior Stevie Mitcheff (26-10) also went 2-0 on the day at 125 for Kent State, edging the Cowboys' Eddie Kilmara 3-2 in his opener before pinning the Badgers' Matt Cavallaris in 2:55.
"Stevie's wrestling better than he ever has in his life," said Andrassy.
Freshman Mack McGuire (22-16) pulled off the upset of the day when he stunned sixth-ranked Jon Morrison of Oklahoma State 3-2. A first-period takedown and a third-period escape was all the scoring McGuire needed to give the Flashes a 6-0 team lead after two bouts.
"He's a guy we were gonna redshirt until January," said Andrassy. "He's done everything we've asked since then and come on and had some really good wins. (Today's) win could get him in the national tournament."
Oklahoma State won the next six matches to secure the win over Kent State (10-6), then went on to knock off Northern Iowa 39-7 in the Sunday's regional final to advance to next week's eight-team championship tournament in Minnesota.
"Our guys fought very hard against the No. 1 team in the country," said Andrassy. "Other than Dustin, I didn't know what to expect. You watch the first two matches and I thought we were in better shape then them. We wrestled very hard. Then you got to see why Oklahoma State's No. 1 in the country."
Also earning victories for the Flashes against Wisconsin were senior Tommy Sasfy (157), sophomore Caleb Marsh (165), and redshirt freshman Sam Wheeler (174).
"I thought we could beat Wisconsin," said Andrassy. "I thought were the second-best team when the pairings were announced five months ago, and I thought the same before today. I think we're a team anywhere from No. 15 to 20 in the nation. We're a team that's actually starting to come around and peak, and I'm real excited about what's coming up."
Kent State will now begin preparations for the MAC Championships, set for March 10 in Buffalo.