Arizona State's No. 2-ranked wrestling team left it to a freshman who looks like a refugee from the basketball team to snatch victory from top-rated Oklahoma State on Saturday night. The host Sun Devils were leading the Cowboys 17-15 going into the finale, the heavyweight matchup between Mike Anderson and Oklahoma State senior Don Frye. Frye, who had once wrestled for Arizona State, had a big edge in experience. He also had two rebuilt shoulders and a reputation in Tempe for preferring to practice the 12-ounce-lager hoist to the underhook hip throw.
Anderson had an expansive 6'8" frame that gave him more leverage than Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. But, with the score tied 2-2 and the seconds dwindling, Frye moved for a decisive single-leg takedown of Anderson that, had it been successful, would have given Frye the lead and put the Cowboys half a minute away from victory in both the match and the meet.
The night had figured to come down to something like this. Oklahoma State was undefeated in 19 matches, and Arizona State, the defending national champ, had only two losses, both at the hands of the Cowboys. Each team sent four All-Americas to the mat, and in three bouts the Oklahoma State wrestler was nationally ranked just one place ahead of his Sun Devils opponent.
Even the coaches are closely matched. Bobby Douglas of Arizona State and Joe Seay of Oklahoma State have known each other for 26 years. Both have contributed to Oklahoma State's rich wrestling heritage. Douglas, a two-time Olympian, competed for the Cowboys in 1965. Seay, a Kansas State alumnus who's in his fifth year at Oklahoma State, has coached the Cowboys to two Big Eight titles.
The Oklahoma State legacy includes 27 NCAA team titles and hundreds of All-Americas. It's a great history all right, but it's just history. Oklahoma State hasn't won a national championship since 1971, though the Cowboys have frequently gone to the NCAA tournament as one of the top-ranked teams. The word around Stillwater is that Oklahoma State better win the title this year. "I could be fired," Seay acknowledges. "It's possible. If we don't do it this year, maybe I should be replaced."
Fortunately, for Seay, he has a strong team. As Douglas says, "This is the best Cowboy team I've seen in 20 years." At one point, nine Cowboys were ranked in the top 12 nationally in their weight divisions. And Oklahoma State's title chances are bolstered by the fact that the NCAA tournament next month will be held in Oklahoma City.
A match between the two top teams in the country was probably enough of an attraction on Saturday, but a big turnout was assured when Carl's Jr., a restaurant chain, promised each ticket holder a Famous Star hamburger if attendance broke the school record of 4,934. For Arizona State, a large crowd was important. To win the match, the Sun Devils had to win all three of those weight classes—118-, 142- and 150-pound—in which Oklahoma State had a man ranked just ahead of his Arizona State counterpart; an enthusiastic crowd could sway any of those bouts.
The fans responded, 5,330 strong, to claim the burgers and watch some great wrestling. In the opening match, at 118 pounds, Sun Devils junior Zeke Jones, after a long history of close matches with the Cowboys' Cory Baze, throttled his nemesis 12-3 to give Arizona State a 4-0 lead. Oklahoma State coolly took the next two matches for an 8-4 edge.
The Sun Devils rebounded when Junior Saunders and Thorn Ortiz won the key bouts at 142 and 150, respectively. Thereafter the lead rocked back and forth until the Sun Devils entered the final match with the narrow lead that left the outcome to the heavyweights.
Frye has had bone surgery on both his shoulders, the right in 1987 and the left in '88. He left Arizona State last summer because he couldn't get clearance from the school's medical staff to compete, but with Douglas's permission he transferred to Oklahoma State without losing a year of eligibility.
Would Arizona State fans notice a difference in the former Devil? "Oh yeah," Frye said, laughing. "I'll be able to finish a match without spitting up alcohol. I spent more time in the bars than in the wrestling room here." Since leaving Tempe, however, Frye has married, quit drinking and adopted a more disciplined practice schedule.
At 200 pounds, he's indeed a small Frye who must wrestle leviathans weighing as much as 275. But he's not to be trifled with. Frye wants to box professionally after college. Anderson will never be mistaken for a boxer. Or a wrestler. At 6'8", 230 pounds, he is usually mistaken for a basketball player. But Anderson disavows any interest in hoops. "I have a shirt that says BETTER TO HAVE WRESTLED AND LOST THAN TO HAVE PLAYED BASKETBALL," he Says.
Frye had beaten Anderson 3-2 in their one match earlier this season. On Saturday, with Anderson leading 2-1 and 49 seconds to go, Frye executed an escape to knot the score and the stomachs of all those Arizona State fans. Still, Frye had to score a takedown for him—and the Cowboys—to win. With about 30 seconds remaining, he shot low and grabbed Anderson's right leg.
"All Frye had to do was create an angle," Seay said. "If he had stepped to the outside, he would have scored the takedown." Instead, Anderson stayed squared-up and kept his weight on Frye. When Frye's hold on his leg loosened, Anderson spun around and was all over Frye for a takedown. Two points. The crowd went bonkers. For the final 11 seconds, Anderson just lay on the discouraged Frye. When it was over, the Arizona State crowd had its Famous Star. Fresh off the grill.