ROCK FALLS – Dual meet success was merely a prelude to something bigger and better for the Rock Falls wrestling team.
The Rockets, winners of 22 matches in the regular season, trumped that in spades by taking top honors in their own regional on Saturday in Tabor Gym. Rock Falls finished with 208.5 points, well ahead of runner-up Newman, which had 151.
Rounding out the top five were Amboy (115.5), Polo (105) and Princeton (73).
"Everybody worked their butts off all season," senior heavyweight Jonas Robbins said, "and we came out of this on top as a team. It's just a great feeling."
It's the first regional title since 2005 for Rock Falls, and the team's 11 sectional qualifiers are the most since 12 made it in 2005.
The individual sectional will be Friday and Saturday in Oregon, while the team sectional is slated for Tuesday, Feb. 19 in Byron. The Rockets will take on Dakota, which, like Rock Falls, won its own regional.
The Indians are ranked first by Illinois Best Weekly, while the Rockets are 22nd. That matters little to Rock Falls coach Derick Cox, who helped guide Erie-Prophetstown to the state tournament in 2010 as an assistant to Tod McCullough.
"I would welcome that," Cox said of taking on Dakota. "We're going to prepare ourselves with the intention of going in there to win. We're not satisfied. We want to win to get to the Elite Eight. I've been there before with Erie-Prophetstown. This is the greatest group of kids I've ever coached, and I want them to experience that."
Nine Rockets qualified for the finals, and seven of them brought home titles.
Carlos Gutierrez started the hit parade at 113 pounds with a pin of AFC's Anthony Hahn in 3 minutes, 30 seconds. Gutierrez had previously defeated Hahn by technical fall at the Erie-Prophetstown tournament.
Tibs Cervantes made it two in a row for the Rockets with a 9-3 decision over Newman's Brandon Ahlgrim in the 132-pound final. Ahlgrim had won an 8-3 decision in a regular-season bout, but Cervantes was dominant the second time around with four takedowns.
Lucas Newburgh, the Rockets' 170-pounder, started a run of five consecutive champs with a 5-3 decision over Polo's Zach Hagemann. Newburgh was clinging to a 3-2 lead with a little more than a minute remaining in the third period when he got a takedown to give himself some breathing room.
At 182 pounds, Rock Falls' Roman Luevano gutted out a 4-1 decision against Amboy's Jackson Sorrells. The wrestlers exchanged escapes before Luevano took a 2-1 lead when Sorrells was penalized a point for fleeing the mat with a minute remaining in the third period.
Sorrells nearly had a pair of takedowns in the final 20 seconds of the third period, only to have Luevano wriggle away. Luevano then got a bout-clinching takedown in the waning seconds.
"I rely on my shot defense a lot," Luevano said, "and in close matches, I can always just rely on it. I knew how to get out of that situation."
Shawn Skinner won by default at 195 pounds over Polo's Dalton Haenitsch, who is still rounding into form after suffering a shoulder injury in football season. The bracket had just four wrestlers, and when Haenitsch won in the semifinals, it was decided to wait until next week to hit the mat again.
Rock Falls finished off its regional championship in style with a pair of pins from Josiah Torres and Robbins.
Torres built an 8-2 lead against St. Bede's Brendan Zimmerman after one period before finishing him off in 2:29 in the 220-pound final.
Robbins nearly scored a pin of St. Bede's John Barnes in the first 20 seconds of the 285-pound finale. Still, he finished off Barnes in just 1:38, the fastest pin of the finals.
Taking second for the Rockets were Roberto Arellano at 145 pounds and Matt Mammosser at 160.
Rock Falls was also 2-for-2 in do-or-die third-place bouts, as only the top three finishers in each weight class advance to sectional. Brue Knox (106) and Konner Smith (120) advanced via that route.
Newman, which gave Rock Falls a scare in a dual before falling 40-37 last month, couldn't match the Rockets' depth and finished second as a team. The Comets had six wrestlers qualify for the finals, and four earned titles.
Hunter Webb got the Comets off to a fast start at 106 pounds with a pin of Princeton's Luke Marselle in 2:38. Jake Snow followed that up with a pin of Amboy's Trever Ullrich in 1:47 in the 126-pound title bout.
"That first-round bye at sectional always helps out, so you can watch who's coming up to you so you can prepare better," Snow said.
Stephen Adamecz was dominant against Amboy's Christopher Jones in the 138-pound title bout, winning by pin in 2:17.
The fourth champ for Newman was 160-pounder Brian Bahrs, who was a 19-7 winner against Rock Falls' Mammosser. It was the fourth straight regional title for Bahrs, but the 2010 and 2012 state champ has bigger fish to fry than that.
"I guess you could say it's a goal," Bahrs said, "but really my ultimate goal is to win state. Right now is the phase where I'm getting prepared for state. It's good practice."
Ahlgrim (132) and Bryce Ivey (138) took second for the Comets, with Ivey's bout against AFC's Jake Kaecker going down to the wire.
Ivey scored a takedown with 12 seconds remaining to get to within 7-6, and at the time, he thought the move had given him the lead. About 20 seconds prior to that, Ivey thought he had executed another takedown, but was not credited with the two points.
Kaecker, who had defeated Ivey 10-0 in a regular-season duel, then rode out the victory.
"I thought for sure I had the takedown," Ivey said, "and I actually thought the score was different in that last 10 seconds. It's fine to lose now rather than next week. I know I can do it now."
Kaecker, a senior who won his first regional title, was diplomatic about the controversy.
"It's up to the ref," Kaecker said. "If he had a good, offensive takedown, then I'd say it's a takedown. But if I'm trying to shoot on him and he just circles behind me, then it's not a real takedown."
Kaecker and Hahn (113) will represent AFC at the Oregon Sectional.
Amboy had four runner-ups in Collin Doege (120), Ullrich (126), Jones (138) and Sorrells (182). Also advancing to sectional were third-place finishers Andrew Klein (160) and Ryan Leffelman (195).
Polo had a champion in 145-pound freshman Ethan Cain, who took an 8-5 decision from Rock Falls' Arellano. Cain scored a reversal to open the third period to break a 4-4 tie, then took control with a takedown with 47 seconds remaining.
"It was a low-single," Cain said. "That's probably my best takedown."
Hagemann (182) and Haenitsch (195) took second for the Marcos, while Jeff Kimpel (182) and Juan Dominguez (220) finished third.