No. 1 Penn State slips past No. 2 OSU, 19-18

UNIVERSITY PARK — If one thing was revealed Saturday night in No. 1 Penn State’s exhilarating 19-18 win over No. 2 Ohio State in Rec Hall, it was this: Don’t ever count out a Cael Sanderson-coached team.

When defending NCAA 157-pound champion Jason Nolf went down with an apparent knee injury on Jan. 28 at Rutgers, many pundits thought whatever slim chance the Nittany Lions had of defeating the Buckeyes had been eliminated.

OSU coach Tom Ryan had assembled what some were arguing was among the best, if not the best, dual meet teams in history. Penn State, the thinking went, would have had to wrestle its best at full strength to beat Ohio State.

When all of the analyzing and predicting were done, 6,699 fans crammed into Rec Hall, most at least 30 minutes before the dual started, to see just how it would all play out. It was the largest Rec Hall crowd of the year and 40th straight Rec Hall sellout.

What they were treated to was a match for the ages. It featured 17 ranked wrestlers, including half of the nation’s No. 1s. Eight of them were undefeated. Seven of those wrestlers had combined to win nine national championships.

In the end, Penn State (12-0, 8-0 Big Ten) won four of the final bouts of the night, rallying from a 15-5 deficit to stun No. 2 Ohio State (12-1, 7-1). It was the Nittany Lions’ 43rd consecutive dual win and it clinched a share of the Big Ten dual meet championship. A win Saturday over Iowa would give Penn State the title outright.

“I think overall our guys wrestled well. We lost some close matches. I thought they did a great job. We were down and needed a lot of points. It was a great dual. Ohio State has a really, really great team. We’ll see them again here shortly,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said.

“It’s been a strange week knowing, obviously, we’re coming into the match without (Jason) Nolf. It was a little different. These guys knew they were going to have to step it up and we were going to have to have a big match or two, like (Anthony) Cassar. Everyone in the Ohio State lineup is really good.”

Ohio State coach Tom Ryan gave credit where it was due, to the second half of Penn State’s lineup.

“They wrestled very well in the second half. Their good guys came back and they did a great job,” he said.

“It’s one of three battles. We have the Big Tens coming up and the NCAAs and it’s one of three battles. We have some things we need to work on. We kind of fell apart a little late in a couple matches. it looked like the nerves got to us a little bit in a couple of those matches. We have to be ready for those moments.”

To win without Nolf, Penn State’s most likely path to victory seemed to be through splitting the matches, winning tossups at 141, 174 and 184, as well as at 149 and 165. Then the task would be scoring as many bonus points as possible in wins and allowing as few as possible in losses.

Through five matches, that strategy seemed doomed. Ohio State won four of the first five bouts. While the Buckeyes’ lead was 15-5, many thought it could have been bigger. Nathan Tomasello (major at 125), Luke Pletcher (decision at 133), Joey McKenna (decision at 141) and Michah Jordan (tech fall at 157) all won for OSU. Only Zain Retherford’s technical fall at 149 prevented a Buckeye first-half shutout.

Vincenzo Joseph pulled Penn State closer with a 12-3 major decision over Te’Shan Campbell, scoring 10 points over the final two periods.

Then, at 174 and 184, in a pair of rematches of 2017 NCAA finals matches, Penn State added two more wins to take the lead.

Mark Hall, trailing 4-2 heading into the third, escaped, scored a slick takedown with a duck under and rode Bo Jordan for the rest of the period. He amassed 1:40 in riding time for another point and a 6-4 win.

Then, at 184, Bo Nickal used three takedowns and a late turn to earn a 10-2 major decision over previously undefeated Myles Martin, 10-2.

Penn State led 16-15, but Ohio State had the nation’s top-ranked wrestlers at 197 and 285, Kollin Moore and Kyle Snyder, respectively.

Nittany Lion Anthony Cassar took down to start the third with the match tied, 2-2. He escaped, earned another takedown and a riding-time point for a 6-3 win over Moore.

After the win, Cassar ran a lap around the mat and blew kisses to a roaring crowd.

“I don’t know what I was thinking. I was going crazy. It was just a culmination of a lot of ups and downs over the past few years. It was something I had envisioned wrestling like that and celebrating like that after a match in Rec Hall since I got here three years ago,” he said.

At 285, Nittany Lion Nick Nevills faced NCAA and Olympic champion Snyder and needed to keep the match to a decision to ensure an outright win.

Nevills scored the initial takedown, and another in the second, to keep the match close. Snyder’s six takedowns fueled a 15-10 win, but it wasn’t enough to prevent a Penn State win.

Nevills had been blitzed by Snyder, 19-9, in last year’s dual.

“Kyle Snyder is a world, Olympic champion. I think last year Nevills didn’t know what to expect. But Nevills can wrestle, he’s a tough wrestler. He still got beat pretty good, right? Just under the circumstances, we’re celebrating a regular decision. That’s not usual. But Nick did a great job under the circumstances,” Sanderson said.

“It was pretty exciting. I got to see us win for in a row, that was pretty exciting,” Retherford said. “My hands are still pretty welted. I’m just proud of how the whole team competed tonight. After the break, everyone stepped up.”

Penn State returns to action at 8 p.m. Saturday against Iowa in the Bryce Jordan Center.

No. 1 Penn State 19, No. 2 Ohio State 18