DOWNERS GROVE – After spending his entire life around Minooka wrestling, Dominic Ruettiger naturally hoped that he could go to state with his teammates in his senior year.
The only trouble with that was that the Indians would have to knock off defending Class 3A champion Lockport and halt its run of three straight years of claiming state trophies in order to advance to Saturday's IHSA dual team finals in Bloomington.
And then to further compound matters, Minooka lost the first three matches at the Downers Grove Sectional to the Porters and fell behind 12-0. And then the 20-match winner Ruettiger had to avoid a pair of pins in his match at 132 with Anthony Crapia, who had a 7-20 mark.
But Ruettiger, who saw his individual hopes dashed by a lengthy bout with the flu, kept battling throughout and managed to pin Crapia at 5:54 to give the Indians just the kick start they needed as they rallied for a 33-30 victory over the Porters.
Minooka advances to Saturday's 9 a.m. quarterfinal in Blomington against Oak Park-River Forest, which beat Maine South 60-7 in its own sectional.
Lockport (11-9) led 30-15 with three matches left and Minooka (24-2) needed to record falls in each of those matches. And that's just what unfolded as Connor Briley, Derek Wentworth and Jack McClimon all got pins to help their team reach state for the first time since 2013.
"Winning that match and getting the pin were crucial," Ruettiger said. "It was difficult coming back after getting sick and not being able to wrestle in sectionals. It's crazy, it's unreal, I can't believe that we're going, and especially beating Lockport, the defending state champs.
"Since I was a little kid, I always wanted to go to state and make big things happen. This is good for my dad, who's been waiting the last four years to do this. After not having any state qualifiers last year, we knew that we had to come back this year. I feel like we've been dynamite when we went up against big teams, and we had to come through, we did. All of our coaches kept telling me to keep our composure and to keep off my back. Every point counted so I knew that I needed to do something."
The Porters gave themselves an opportunity to win after winning eight of the first 11 matches, which assured it of the first criteria in case of a tie. Therefore, it was essential for the Indians to end the meet with three straight falls, which is just what they accomplished.
Briley got a fall in 1:50 at 220, Wentworth followed with a pin in 3:25 at 285 and McClimon needed only 25 seconds to wrap up the win for Minooka, which went to state eight times from 2004-2013, which included a title and two second-place finishes from 2009-2011.
"It just starts off in the practice room," Wentworth said. "We're the only top-10 team in the state who had only one kid ranked individually, so this is a team and you don't find that in a lot of programs. Everything that Minooka is built on is wrestling for each other and none of these guys care about individuals. They wanted to get down to the state finals for the dual team tournament.
"All of the seniors have been starting since we were freshman. We started at the bottom of the barrel but these coaches have done an awesome job and they don't back down from anything. Lockport is a top-tier program so everyone is happy that we got the team win. It's really good to be back.
In the opener at 113, Mike Kaminski beat Michael Ruettiger 14-8, Matt Ramos followed with a 10-4 win over Austin Markee and Anthony Molton made it 12-0 with a fall in 29 seconds.
Adam McDowell followed Dominic Ruettiger;s big win with a 7-1 victory over Matt Kronsbein before Lockport claimed four-straight wins. James Pierandozzi got a pin in 2:46 at 145, Zach Reese edged Jake Ryan 4-2, Austin Kolada nipped Danny Debow 2-1 and Malik Daghash pulled out a 9-7 win over Alec Dufour to give the Porters a 27-9 lead.
After Minooka's Connor Colbert recorded a fall in 3:15 at 182, Lockport responded with a 5-1 win from Yousif Salah over Drew Gutknecht. That set the table for the final three matches and the Indians responded to the challenge in an impressive fashion.
"We knew that we could go three in a row there, which we did," Indians coach Bernie Ruettiger said. "In Dominic's whole career, he's lived and died by the throw. He gives up a lot of points to get points. He didn't quit and I'm so proud of him. Both of my boys have been sick the last three weeks and Dominic had to miss the sectional.
"This is awesome. When we took this thing back over three years ago, our goal was to keep getting better each year. We told these kids that our goal was to get to the state tournament and we took one step at a time."