Despite falling in an early hole, No. 2 Penn State wrestling roared back to score a stunning comeback victory over No. 1 Oklahoma State to win the Dual National Championship.
Things did not go Penn State's way to start the day in Stillwater. In the opening three matches, Penn State suffered a potential injury to Nick Suriano that caused him to default in his match, George Carpenter was beaten by major decision, and Jimmy Gulibon had a fall not called against defending national champion Dean Heil. That didn't stop Cael Sanderson's men though from coming back to win the Dual Championship.
Led by a technical fall from Jason Nolf and a fall by Bo Nickal, Penn State scored 27 unanswered to win the match 27-13 and won the final seven matches of the dual in the process. At the start of the season, there was a lot of doubt surrounding Penn State's lineup. How would Suriano do? Will we see Mark Hall? How will Bo do at 184? Is Nick Nevills for real? Following the Big Ten duals championship and now a National Duals Championship, those doubts have been silenced entirely.
Penn State had a nightmare start to this dual. At 125, Suriano was carrying a 3-1 lead in the 2nd period when No. 11 Nick Piccininni rolled over Suriano's ankle inadvertently. The medical staff tried to tape him up but he could only put weight on one leg. Props to Suriano for giving it a try, but his injury put Penn State in a 6-0 hole. What this means for Penn State at Big Tens and Nationals will be important to keep an eye on going forward.
At 133, George Carpenter managed to prevent a technical fall with a late 3rd period takedown on No. 2 Kaid Brock. However, the major decision loss put Oklahoma State up 10-0. At 141, Gulibon had Heil pinned, there's not really any doubt about it, but the ref kept his hand at his side, and Gulibon lost a tight decision. Oklahoma State was up 13-0, and even with Penn State's heavy hitters about to come up, it seemed like a tall ask to make a comeback.
No. 1 Zain Retherford stopped the bleeding with a 2-1 decision win over No. 2 Anthony Collica. Collica's defense always seems to give Zain trouble, and this time was no exception. Though, Zain was called for some peculiar stalling calls for locking up his legs while riding Collica. That's not stalling and it's not against the rules. Penn State was down 13-3.
At 157, the momentum of the dual shifted dramatically. No. 1 Jason Nolf took on familiar foe No. 6 Joe Smith, and put a pummeling on him. Smith held Nolf close at the Scuffle last season, but never got out of first gear here. Nolf attacked him relentlessly until he raised the white flag and Nolf picked up a 24-9 technical fall victory. Penn State was trailing 13-8 going into intermission, which considering the circumstances was a pretty good scenario.
At 165, No. 4 Vincenzo Joseph kept the team rolling with a 12-4 major decision win over No. 8 Chandler Rogers. Rogers took unnecessary risks in this match that led to Joseph getting crucial nearfall points late in the first. Rogers even tried a throw in the 2nd that nearly got the pin. Joseph wrestled a smart match and kept the pressure on Rogers. His win made the score Oklahoma State 13, Penn State 12.
At 174, not a whole lot happened in this match apart from a late 3rd period scramble that led to No. 7 Mark Hall defeating No. 9 Kyle Crutchmer by decision 3-2. Despite very little action, Penn State took its first lead of the dual 15-13. The match was dramatically different from their encounter at the Scuffle, and Crutchmer had a very real chance to secure the match winning takedown. However, Hall's win gave Penn State a lead they would not relinquish.
The 2nd top 5 matchup of the bout was between No. 2 Bo Nickal and No. 4 Nolan Boyd at 184. From the whistle, Boyd shot for a takedown, and Bo was close to giving up 2 points instantly. However, Bo was able to work his way to a cradle and he pinned Boyd in 34 seconds. The air rushed out of Gallagher-Iba Arena as Penn State took a nearly insurmountable 21-13 lead with two matches left. It's the 2nd pin Bo has had over a top 5 opponent this season.
At 197, No. 9 Matt McCutcheon picked up the dual clinching win with a 4-3 decision victory over No. 8 Preston Weigel. It was a standard McCutcheon performance, he was really solid and provided Weigel with no openings to attack. Mouse scored the national championship clinching takedown with 30 seconds left. At 285, No. 3 Nick Nevills took on Oklahoma State backup Derek White, and won 9-5 with nearly 3 minutes racked up in riding time.
The deficit was as startling as the comeback. For this program to fight back in the manner they did showed a championship mentality. Cael's teams often seem composed, but how can a team be prepared for a 6 point injury default to start the match? This team doesn't let the moment get to them, and they turned what was looking to be a difficult afternoon into a national championship. Hats off to Cael Sanderson, the coaching staff and the team for pulling off another title for Penn State wrestling.
what's next for penn state?
Penn State will be wrestling in the Big Ten Championships on March 4-5 in Bloomington, Indiana.
I can't go this recap without talking about the disservice Flo Wrestling did to the sport today. Flo's coverage of wrestling and their dedication to the sport are to be admired, but for their livestream to cut out in the way that it did was unacceptable. Not only did Flo block NBC from airing this dual on one of their channels, they also jacked up their price to $30 for a monthly subscription. If they're going to charge a monthly premium, then the service has to at least be of some semblance of quality.
They at least had the decency to put up a choppy Facebook Live and Periscope stream. I think Flo owes the wrestling world an apology for these technical problems, and either offer everyone who signed up for this dual a free month or a refund for those who don't want anything to do with the service. It's only right.
Thank goodness for "Ironhead" Jeff Byers on the Penn State radio call or else I wouldn't have been able to get any commentary of the match at all. Byers is great, everyone should listen to him when they can't watch a dual.