DES MOINES — Taylor Curtis flung his arms in the air before hugging his coach. Andrew Foutch stood expressionless on the mat.
In semifinal matches featuring the top-rated wrestlers at their weights, Underwood's two lightweights each proved — in their own ways — they deserve to wrestle for a state title.
“They've just been really focused and intent on winning this thing,” Underwood coach Joe Stephens said of the duo, who both finished third last season. “We talked all year about how these are going to be tough matches and you have to stay patient; you can't lose your mind.
“They just did an awesome job, and I couldn't be prouder.”
The Eagles duo is among a contingent of five Class 1-A finalists from western Iowa who broke through Friday at the state meet. Joining them are Exira-EHK's Evan Hansen (145 pounds), Tri-Center's Loren Williams (152) and Audubon's Jesse Svoboda (182). All will go for the glory during championship night Saturday beginning at 6 at Wells Fargo Arena.
Second-ranked Curtis (106) adjusted his approach on the fly in a 2-1 semifinal triumph over No. 1 Zach Fowler of Alburnett. Normally most comfortable on his feet, the senior built his lead in the first period before dueling his opponent to a scoreless second. Curtis rode out the entire third frame to clinch his first finals berth.
The way he won was not lost on the Underwood standout. A year ago, he couldn't escape when he needed to in a 1-0 semifinal heartbreaker.
Now the kid who was born premature, dealt with issues in his digestive system and still battles asthma will compete on the state's brightest stage. He puts his 49-2 record on the line against unrated Wilton freshman Tanner Greenwald (32-12).
“It was a little rough growing up the first couple years of my life,” Curtis said. “I was just real sick when I was little. I started wrestling at the age of 3 and fell in love with it from there.”
No. 1 Foutch punched his finals ticket at 126 a few minutes after his teammate with a 9-4 decision over No. 2 Sawyer Amling of Edgewood-Colesburg.
Despite trailing 3-2 after the first period and being tied 4-4 early in the third, the unbeaten senior netted a go-ahead takedown with 1:42 left. A subsequent hard tumble out of bounds left Foutch briefly lying on the mat to get his bearings. But he returned and added another takedown and three back points before time expired.
“I will not quit this year,” Foutch said. “This is my thing, 100 percent, all the time.”
A little state history came along with his latest win. The victory was No. 207, tying the career record and giving him a chance to own it outright Saturday. At 52-0, he draws No. 4 Lane Nichols (46-4) of Woodbury Central.
“I forgot about that,” Foutch said. “That's kind of something I was going to think about afterward.”
Curtis sailed through his quarterfinal test, and Foutch downed No. 3 Jared Eischeid of Carroll Kuemper 11-1.
Tri-Center's Williams, a top-rated, two-time defending champion, edged No. 2 Grant Henderson of Alburnett 3-2 in a highly anticipated quarterfinal Thursday morning, then returned to beat No. 8 Kain Queck of Nodaway Valley 3-0 in the semifinals.
Against Henderson, Williams couldn't finish a shot late in the second period and trailed 1-0 heading to the third. He evened things on an escape at the 1:25 mark, and then made the move of the match.
With 29 seconds left, he fired in on a double-leg and converted for a 3-1 advantage. Williams gave up an escape, but held off Henderson for the victory.
“I could just see he was reaching up with the head, reaching up with the head,” Williams said. “I just lowered and went.”
Williams has a chance to join some select company. Entering Saturday, only 78 athletes have won three state championships. Two of them, Creston/Orient-Macksburg's Jake Marlin and Denver-Tripoli's Brandon Sorensen, will try to climb the ladder to join the 21 who have four titles.
Williams also is bidding to become only the second Western Iowa Conference athlete to win three crowns, following Riverside's Jimmy Rodgers (1995-97).
He said one reason he's back in his third state championship match is that he never assumes anything.
“I always respect the guy,” he said. “I always have a little bit of worry in me.”
After a hard-fought win over Queck, Williams said he was ready to get back to the hotel.
“Play some video games, sleep,” he said, adding that “Call of Duty” and “NCAA Football” likely will be the games of choice.
Williams will meet No. 3 junior Cody Nelson (48-0) of North Butler in the finals.
At 182, Audubon's sixth-rated Svoboda continued a storybook final tournament. The senior pinned unrated Dylan Brockshus of Sibley-Ocheyedan in 1:44 in the quarterfinals, and followed with a 3-1 win over No. 4 Gunnar Clark of West Hancock.
“It's a dream come true,” Svoboda said. “I'd call it determination. I'm not the strongest kid, I'm not the fastest kid or the smartest kid, but I just want to win. I think that's what really gets me through most of my matches.”
Svoboda is one match from adding to the family's championship collection. Father Brian won a state title at Winside High School in Nebraska.
“Hopefully I can fulfill the legacy and do what he did,” Svoboda said.
Svoboda reached state last year, but didn't medal. He credited his teammates for their help through the years in the wrestling room at the Svoboda house and in the hog barn.
“Kids come over to the house to wrestle around or help with the chores,” he said. “A lot of the wrestlers come over to help me at the hog barn and help me pull out dead pigs. That helped out a lot, too.”
Svoboda will meet No. 2 senior Dalton Ciavarelli (36-3) of Clarksville in the finals.
At 145, Exira-EHK's unrated Hansen (46-1) beat Underwood's Cody Kingery 3-2 in overtime in the quarterfinals, then ousted No. 5 Cody Marks of Nashua-Plainfield 5-2 in the semis. He'll meet unrated Caleb Wedeking (44-7) in the finals.
In the semifinals, his lead was trimmed to 3-2 with 1:45 remaining. But he scored a reversal with 30 seconds left to give him some breathing room.
“I know my conditioning's better than everybody else's,” Hansen said. “I knew in order to get here, I'd have to out-condition everybody because everybody's so even in my bracket.”
In the quarterfinals, Kingery got an early takedown before Hansen tied it early in the third. Hansen rode out Kingery to send it into overtime. In the extra session, Kingery was called for an illegal move to give Hansen the win.
Hansen qualified at 113 last year and didn't medal. He grew a lot and moved up five weight classes.
“We didn't know what to expect,” said his father, Spartan assistant coach Dale Hansen. “I knew if he worked hard, he'd be fine. I've got all the confidence in the world in this kid. He set his goals high and worked hard on getting to them. It's huge as a parent to see this. I just love it.”
Western Iowa wrestlers went 7-10 in quarterfinal bouts earlier in the day. The area followed with a 7-12 showing in second-round consolation matches, with a top-eight finish and state medal guaranteed to winners.
Finishing their season on the awards stand Saturday will be Christian Polley (Tri-Center, 113 pounds), Brad Kerkhoff (Audubon, 120), Logan Moore (West Monona, 152), Wyatt Lewis (Council Bluffs St. Albert, 160) and Josh Matusik (Woodbine, 160), along with Eischeid and Kingery.
Losing in the quarters but medaling are Queck (152) and Exira-EHK's Trey Sander (195).