BYRON – Merely reaching the sectional level was a victory of sorts for the Rock Falls wrestling team.
Pulling out a win at that level was another matter.
The Rockets, who won their own regional to advance to the sectional for the first time since 2005, ran into a buzzsaw in the form of Dakota. The Indians lived up to their powerhouse billing by rolling to a 55-15 victory on Tuesday at the Class 1A Byron Dual Team Sectional.
Next up for Dakota (21-2) is the dual team state tournament on Saturday in Normal. It will take on defending 1A champion LeRoy, a 45-18 winner over Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley at the Heyworth Sectional.
"They're peaking at the right time," Rock Falls coach Derick Cox said of Dakota, "and I believe they're going to be at the top of the podium on Saturday."
Dakota, whose regular-season losses were to the other two teams competing at Byron on Tuesday, Mercer County and Harvard, is making its first state appearance since 2007. The Indians finished third that year, after having won in 2006 and taking third in 2005.
Dakota had to survive its own brutal regional, against the likes of Lena-Winslow, Stillman Valley and Byron, just to get to the team sectional.
"It's great to get back in this position," Dakota coach Pete Alber said. "If somebody asked me if we were going to state, I'd have said, 'Well, we're going to try, but with the way it looks, no,' with the regional we were in and stuff like that. These guys have really come together the last part of the year. I like the way we look right now."
Dakota won 10 of 12 contested bouts, including six by pin. The marquee bout of the night happened right off the bat, as Dakota's Daniel Zimmerman gained a 6-1 decision against Rock Falls' Shawn Skinner. They finished second at 220 and 195 pounds, respectively, at the individual state tournament this past weekend.
Zimmerman scored a takedown late in the first period, then had Skinner valiantly fighting off a pin attempt for about half of the second period, to send a message to his teammates.
"I had to show the guys that we could go out there and pull this off," Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman also beat Skinner 5-1 in a regular-season dual.
"He's just a solid wrestler," Skinner said. "He doesn't do anything special, but the things he does do, he does amazingly well. He's got another year ahead of him, and I see better things from him next year."
Rock Falls (22-7) got a forfeit at 220, then heavyweight Jonas Robbins won by pin over Chris Jensen in 3 minutes, 49 seconds to give his team a short-lived 12-3 lead.
"Coach told me we need to get bonus points," Robbins said, "so I went out there and went for the pin right away."
Once the match switched over to the lower weights, however, the party was over for Rock Falls. Dakota's Dillon Swift, Alec Henze and Josh Alber delivered pins from 106-120 to give their team a 21-12 lead.
The Rockets briefly slowed the momentum at 126 pounds, as Carlos Gutierrez gutted out a 6-5 decision against Nate Olsen. Olsen scored a takedown with 50 seconds left in the third period to seize a 5-4 lead, only to have Gutierrez execute a granby roll that led to a reversal in the final 4 seconds for the winning points.
"I don't know if the ref was watching, but he was stalling a lot," Gutierrez said, "so I had to pull out a last-second move. It worked."
Gutierrez's decision got Rock Falls within 21-15, but Dakota's J.J. Wolfe (132), Carver James (138) and Greg Krulas (145) responded with pins to put their team up 39-15.
Brandon Lizer (152) and Hunter Asche (160) won major decisions to make the score 47-15, and after the Indians received a forfeit at 170, they finished off the match in style as 182-pounder Drew Zellmer pulled out a 6-4 overtime decision against Lucas Newburgh.
Rock Falls dropped a 50-18 regular-season dual to Dakota, and attempted to stay away from repeat bouts. The only rematches were at 152 (Lizer over Roberto Arellano), 160 (Asche over Matt Mammosser), 195 (Zimmerman over Skinner) and 285 (Robbins over Jensen).
"We made ourselves a little vulnerable because we were looking for those extra points," Cox said. "In the end it didn't work out."
Still, the Rockets made some strides in their second season under Cox. They were 14-11 in duals a year ago.
"We want to set the example that we can do these things," Cox said. "We got here, so obviously the next goal is to return here and to move to the next level. This is just the start. We've got to experience it in order to know how to handle it."