Gator heavyweight wrestler Zach Evans lost his match 3-2, but when the clock hit zero, he jumped up while raising both his arms in the air, and clapped his hands a couple times. His team had just won the dual 31-30 over the Frazee Hornets and captured the Section 8A Team Championship– the first section team title and state tournament team berth since 2012 and the seventh overall in program history.
Leading 2-1 in the closing seconds of his match versus the Hornets’ Tony Malikowski, Evans would get called for clasping, temporarily stopping the action and tying things up at 2-2 with five seconds left. The Gators led in the dual by a 31-27 margin at that time.
Instead of watching Evans ride Malikowski out to send the match to overtime– where Evans would have a chance to get taken to his back and pinned– the Gator coaching staff told him to just give Malikowski the escape. Evans put both his hands up vertically to signal to the referee to give Malikowski the one-point escape.
Asked what he thought at first when the coaches said to let him go, Evans explained how he didn’t give much thought not to do what the coaches told him to do.
“I looked at the score and I thought, ‘Well, if I can lose by points, it will send the team to state,’” Evans said. “I simply did what the coaches told me because they knew what was right.”
Evans trailed, but in five seconds pandemonium broke out amongst Gator Nation at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Thief River Falls. Once the clock hit zero, the Gator bench jumped up and down, many hugging one another and others raising clenched fists above their heads. Gator fans in attendance– those same people who chanted “Let’s Go Zach” and Zach’s nickname “Dozer” repeatedly during his match– screamed and clapped in the stands.
Despite hearing the chants of his name throughout the match, Evans knew he had to stay focused.
“It was kind of cool,” he said, “but I knew I just had to clear my head, not worry about it, (and) just go wrestle my match.”
This dual may have came down to the final match, but it was a team effort, and a contest with many other tight affairs throughout.
“What a great day it was to be a Gator!!! I am so happy for the kids; we have worked so hard to get to this point and they deserve this great opportunity,” Gator Head Coach Todd Bergeron said via email.
The team achieved this together, a fact not lost on Evans.
“Just feeding off the energy of others that really helped us,” Evans said.
Next Action: The Gators will head to Crookston High School on Friday, February 22 and Saturday, February 23 for the Section 8A Individual Tournament. Then, the Gators will travel as a team down to the state tournament on Wednesday, February 27. Earning the fifth seed, the Gators open first round state Class A team action from the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul on Thursday, February 28 versus the fourth seed and Section 4A Champion, Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City Falcons, at 11 am.
For Coach Bergeron, he hopes his team continues to achieve– to not feel content with just participating at state as a team.
“(I) hope we can go down and make some noise at the big show,” Coach Bergeron said via email. “The kids need to stay focused and keep the momentum going and get a bunch of individuals (to state) as well.”
Evans echoed a similar message, one not of complacency.
“We already achieved the section goal,” Evans said. “So why not go for the state champion goal? We have nothing to lose.”