By Jeff Budlong, Tribune Sports Editor

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 16, 2005

ALBERT LEA &045; Despite what the rankings may say Thursday night the Albert Lea wrestling team proved it is second to no one.

&8220;I have been here since &8216;79 and I don’t know if we have ever had this scenario No. 1 vs. No. 2 and it is great for Southern Minnesota wrestling,&8221; said Albert Lea head coach Larry Goodnature, who dedicated the win to his nephew Corey Goodnature who died in combat earlier this year. &8220;It was huge for our program and huge for wrestling.&8221;

The No. 2 Tigers trounced top-ranked Owatonna 42-15 in front of 3,500 screaming fans who packed the Albert Lea gym.

&8220;We came out here as a team and went one match by one match and didn’t let the adrenaline get to us too much,&8221; said Albert Lea senior Eric Elleby. &8220;With all the fans here we had more support than we could ever imagine. It was just a dream.&8221;

The dream was alive and well from the start.

The Tigers led from the start jumping out to a 9-0 lead before the Huskies closed within one, but Albert Lea won the next four matches to seize control of the duel.

The win also gives the Tigers the inside track to a Big Nine Conference title, and a confidence boost for a likely rematch against these Huskies come sectional time.

&8220;Every match was a grind.

We won a couple very close matches, but the kids came to wrestle tonight,&8221; said coach Goodnature.

Albert Lea began the night with three decisions from Cody Hansen, Logan Kortan and Eric Johnson,

Hansen, ranked fifth at 103, downed Richard Rodriguez 4-0, while No. 2 Kortan held on for a 4-2 victory.

Johnson would take a 2-0 lead into the third period thanks to a takedown in the final five seconds and get the win 4-2 at 119.

After Owatonna recorded a technical fall at 125, sixth-ranked Cody Buscho took advantage of Beau Hansen’s shot to get back points and win 10-6 at 130.

The win drew the Huskies within one in the team race at 9-8, but they would never come close to claiming the lead.

Third-ranked Zack McGinnis pinned Kade Zeman in 3:13, and Logan Hansen came through with a big three points at 140 earning a takedown with 46 seconds left and holding on for a 7-6 victory.

&8220;We finished well all night long,&8221; said coach Goodnature.

&8220;I think we were in a little better shape than they were and it was kind of fun.

&8220;I knew it was going to be a good dual but I wanted our kids to be confident and aggressive which is our style of wrestling.

We were today and I think that is what helped the whole thing being aggressive.&8221;

Matt Morris, ranked sixth at 145, was 17 seconds away from disposing of No. 2 Tyler Grunwald holding a 6-2 lead.

However, when Morris went to put Grunwald back on the matt the Huskie hit face first appearing to knock himself out.

Grunwald laid on the mat for several minutes before he was wheeled away on a stretcher giving Morris the six-point injury default win.

Despite the silence that took over during the injury time it didn’t take long for the crowd to get back to its high decibel level when Elleby tied his match at 5-5 just as time expired at 152.

He would beat Nick Miller in overtime with a takedown extending the Albert Lea advantage to 27-8.

&8220;We lost a few that I am sure will go the other way next time and we won a few that could have gone the other way,&8221; said Elleby.

&8220;We wrestled hard and the never give up tactic worked.&8221;

No. 1 Derek Skala had just a 6-3 lead over Nate Goodnature in their match at 160 after two periods before finishing with a major decision.

Taylor Ignaszewski won his match at 171 4-0 and No. 9 Alex Paul wore down second-ranked Patrick Mahan at 189 to earn an overtime pin to draw some of the loudest applause from the now frenzied crowd.

&8220;He was gassed and I was just waiting for him to walk right into it and he did,&8221; said Paul.

&8220;It kind of put the icing on the cake.

We took the momentum from them right away and just got it rolling.&8221;

The two teams split the final two matches with Albert Lea’s Ben Berhow receiving a forfeit at 275 to conclude the night.

&8220;It was a great launching pad for us against a very well coached team,&8221; said Elleby.

&8220;It was an awesome night.&8221;