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Conant's Nico Gottardo (left) battles Oak Park-River Forest's Allen Stallings at 170 pounds in a Class 3A Lake Park Sectional finals. | Joe Cyganowski~For Sun-Times Media
Oak Park-River Forest has been looking forward to a rematch against Sandburg all season, but the No. 2 Huskies had to beat Conant first Tuesday night in the Lake Park Sectional.
Oak Park advanced to the Class 3A dual-team state quarterfinals for the fourth time in five years with a 47-15 win over the Cougars. The victory set up a duel for the ages at 9 a.m. Saturday in Bloomington when No. 1 Sandburg meets the Huskies in a rematch of last year's dual-team state final. Sandburg won that match 30-24. Oak Park beat the Eagles 27-24 earlier this season at the Sandburg Super Duals Jan. 12.
"They are the better wrestling team, but our kids can do things their kids can't do," Oak Park coach Mike Powell said. "We know it will be a battle."
The Huskies (33-1) will seek their second Class 3A state title after winning in 2009.
Conant (13-6) won the first two matches against Oak Park starting at 120 pounds, but the Huskies won the next four matches starting with freshman Isaiah White's technical fall against Zack Davis at 132. The next three wins came on pins by Jake O'Mara, Johnny Gahagan and Kamal Bey.
The most exciting match of the dual was turned in by freshman Allen Stallings, whose takedown at the buzzer gave him an 8-7 win over Nico Gottardo. That victory put the Huskies ahead 26-12.
When Stallings was pushed out of bounds just as the third period was ending, he peeked at the clock to see six seconds remaining.
"It was tough coming out of the state meet," Stalling said. "I had to regroup myself, come back and work hard. [My win] was very exciting. I looked at [the clock] and just went for it. I took the last shot."
Conant's first two wins to begin the meet were by Marcus Williams at 120 and Bobby Alexander at 126.
"We knew going in that it was going to be a dogfight," Conant coach Chad Hay said. "They sat a few of their starters and we thought we could take advantage of that. They are going to something special [at state]."
Powell said he plans to use eight freshmen and sophomores against Sandburg, but expects the Eagles to have eight seniors in their lineup.
"We've had our eye on Sandburg for a long time. We know what we're expecting going in," Powell said.
Powell was able to use some reserves like Joe Robles and Savonne Bennette to rest individual state qualifiers such as Matthew Rundell, Davonte Mahomes and Andre Lee. Undefeated state champion Joe Ariola at 182 pinned Elias Gardner to improve to 47-0 on the season.