CEDAR FALLS, Ia. — Max Thomsen held on with all his might Saturday as Fredy Stroker rolled in a desperate move to break free.
In a last-second flurry, Iowa high school wrestling supremacy hinged on the outcome of a make-or-break scramble.
And just like he has nearly every other time during his remarkable prep career, Thomsen came out on top.
A partisan crowd erupted at the Keith Young Invitational when the local star from Union of LaPorte City tilted Stroker for a three-point near-fall in the closing seconds to win a 4-1 ultimate tiebreaker decision in a clash between two of the top 145-pounders in the country.
“This is what I want,” said Thomsen, a Northern Iowa recruit who ran his career record to 153-1. “I want to be put on the line, I want to be challenged, I want to take on the best.”
The Northern Iowa recruit got his chance Saturday with a team title at stake.
Union, the second-ranked squad in Class 2-A, won two of the tournament’s three marquee championship bouts and held off Bettendorf 199.5-194.
Thomsen’s current prep and future college teammate, Jacob Holschlag, won a 6-3 decision in a tiebreaker against fellow Northern Iowa recruit Isaiah Patton of Dowling Catholic in a 170-pound bout between returning state champions.
Bettendorf’s Dayton Racer — a 2013 Minnesota state champ who was declared eligible Friday after joining the Bulldogs this summer — used a takedown early and another one late to win a 5-1 decision at 160 against defending state champion Bryce Steiert of Waverly-Shell Rock.
But it was the specter of a Thomsen-Stroker bout that fueled Internet chatter and helped pack the stands Saturday. The stakes increased after Bettendorf won all seven of its semifinal matches to pull within 2.5 points in the team race.
Jack Wagner, Jacob Schwarm, Paul Glynn, Jacob Woodard and Racer won titles for the No. 2 team in 3-A, but the Bulldogs couldn’t wrestle the team lead away from Union in the finals.
Stroker entered the finals with a 137-3 career record and the nation’s No. 2 ranking. The Minnesota-bound senior hadn’t lost to another Iowan since the last match of his freshman season.
Thomsen’s last defeat came in the first month of his freshman year. He finished 47-1 that season and posted a pair of 49-0 marks during his sophomore and junior seasons. As the three-time state champion climbed the national rankings up to No. 5, debates began to surface about how Thomsen would stack up against Stroker.
Until Saturday, though, their only battles came during club practices, state freestyle summer camps and outside the Iowa high school glare.
“It was a tough match,” Stroker said. “It’s draining, man, (when) you’ve got the whole crowd rooting against you.”
Stroker fired off the first shot but couldn’t capitalize late in the opening period. After an exchange of escapes, Thomsen had an opportunity to win at the end of regulation but Stroker used the splits to fend off a takedown on mat’s edge.
“I think we had three or four leg attempts when we should’ve probably had eight or 10 and maybe you finish two of them and that’s the difference,” Bettendorf coach Dan Knight said. “(Stroker) came close. Max came close, too.
“They both rode well, they both scrapped. That’s what two great kids who are going to great colleges do, and it’s good experience because they’re going to have that kind of tough match on a weekly basis when they get to college.”
Neither wrestler could escape in the first set of 30-second tiebreakers. Stroker came to his feet with 10 seconds remaining, needing to escape in the decisive ultimate tiebreaker. He rolled in an attempt to break free.
The two-time state champion from Bettendorf said he felt Thomsen’s hands lock and “kind of stopped wrestling because I thought they were going to call locked hands.”
Action continued, and so did Thomsen. He caught Stroker’s left arm, squeezed and tilted him over for a five-count.
“You can’t stop wrestling,” Thomsen said. “You’ve got to wrestle wherever he puts you and you’ve got to learn how to wrestle when you’re in bad position, good position, you’ve got to stay on it. I kept all the pressure forward and I rode hard.”