PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – Pennsylvania native Quinten Wright gave the 17,340 fans inside the Wells Fargo Center something to talk about late into Friday night.
He may have also put the NCAA team trophy within reach being brought back to University Park.
Clinging to a 6.5-point lead in the team race, Wright, a junior from Wingate, Pa., caught Iowa’s Grant Gambrall on his back in the 184-pound semifinals. Seconds later the mat was slapped and Wright danced into the final and the Nittany Lions jumped out to a 16.5-point advantage ahead of Cornell.
The Big Red, meanwhile, faltered.
Mack Lewnes, a finalist in 2010, dropped a decision to Stanford’s Nick Amuchastegui in the 174-pound semifinals. A weight later, Steve Bosak lost in overtime to Lehigh’s Robert Hamlin, the first All-American in history from Vermont.
The trifecta came when top-seeded 197-pounder Cam Simaz lost to Kent State’s Dustin Kilgore.
When wrestling starts on Saturday morning, Penn State will hold a 17.5-point advantage ahead of Cornell.
PSU, winners of an NCAA title in 1953, also pushed rookie David Taylor and junior Frank Molinaro into the finals.
A much-anticipated semifinal between Taylor and American’s Steve Fittery was decided in a matter of seconds. The two entered the match a combined 68-0.
Taylor was locked in a scoreless match with Fittery in the 157-pound semifinals when Taylor reversed the Eagle senior for a 2-0 lead midway through the second period. Seconds later, as Fittery hesitated, Taylor grabbed underneath the chin and horsed Fittery to his back for a 2-point near-fall.
It was quickly 4-0 and Taylor, now 38-0, cruised to a 7-1 victory.
And guess who’s waiting in the final?
Arizona State senior Bubba Jenkins, who was an NCAA finalist while wrestling for Penn State in 2008, beat Northwestern’s Jason Welch in the other half of the bracket.
PSU head coach Cael Sanderson and Jenkins (20-3) parted ways after the 2009-10 season.
“It was a wild day,” said Nittany Lion assistant coach Cody Sanderson. “But the key for us is that everybody is giving everything they have out there. The winning will take care of itself if you work hard, and our guys have done that.
“You have to find a way.”
Amuchastegui (31-3) pulled off a second consecutive upset – in everybody else’s opinion – by beating Cornell’s Mack Lewnes in the 174-pound semifinals. In the quarterfinals, Amuchastequi knocked out Penn State’s Ed Ruth, who entered the week with only one loss. Ruth came back to score a fall in wrestlebacks to aid PSU’s cause.
Iowa, a point behind Cornell in third place in the team standings, pushed Matt McDonough into the final at 125.
Oklahoma State, 8.5 points behind Iowa in fourth place, pushed two to the finals – Jordan Oliver at 133 pounds and Clayton Foster at 197.
Oklahoma State’s chances went south as three seeded wrestlers – Neil Erisman (157), Mike Benefiel (174) and Chris Perry (184) – all lost in the wrestleback round of 12 on Friday night.
Iowa State’s Jon Reader stayed perfect, beating Pennsylvanian Chris Henrich of Virginia 4-3 on Friday night. Reader (38-0) will try to become the third product from Davison, Mich., to win an NCAA title in the last decade, joining Iowa’s Brent Metcalf and Nebraska’s Paul Donahoe.
Reader meets Amuchastegui on Saturday night.
2010 NCAA champion Andrew Howe of Wisconsin and Oklahoma’s Tyler Caldwell grinded out a 2-1, 11-minute marathon in the 165-pound semifinals. In the end it was Caldwell (32-5) who will get another shot at Nebraska’s Jordan Burroughs (35-0), a national champion in 2009. Burroughs beat Caldwell by one point in the Big 12 Conference final earlier this month.
Kyle Dake (30-2) started off the night for Cornell with a 4-0 decision against American’s Ganbayar Sanjaa. The NCAA champion at 141 in 2010, Dake will meet Molinaro in the 149-pound final. Molinaro (32-2) is a two-time All-American.
After losing to Northwestern’s Brandon Precin in the Midlands final in December, McDonough (27-1) beat Precin for at third consecutive meeting, this time by a 3-1 score. All three of Precin’s losses this season are to the Hawkeye. McDonough will go for a second consecutive national title on Saturday night.
Arizona State senior Anthony Robles (35-0), now a three time All-American, beat Utah Valley State’s Ben Kjar 4-2 in the other semifinal.
The top two seeds also advanced into the 133-pound final. Oliver (28-0) beat Wisconsin’s Tyler Graff, while Boise State’s Andrew Hochstrasser (27-1) edged Penn State’s Andrew Long in the other half. Oliver beat Hochstrasser in a regular-season meeting.
Michigan’s Kellen Russell (37-0) stayed unbeaten with a marathon overtime 2-1 win against Iowa’s Montell Marion. Russell will meet Cal Poly’s Boris Novachkov (31-1), who topped Minnesota’s Michael Thorn in the opposite semifinal.
The heavyweight final will feature Zach Rey (33-1) of Lehigh and American’s Ryan Flores (26-5), a rematch of the EIWA final which Flores won in overtime.