Three teams still have a shot at the title
Minnesota, Penn State, Oklahoma State all remain in the hunt
OKLAHOMA CITY -- There was a lot of scoreboard watching on Saturday morning. Those on press row and most everyone inside Chesapeake Energy Arena required an abacus as Penn State, Minnesota and Oklahoma State continued their battle for the 2014 national team title.
At the conclusion of the fifth session of the 2014 NCAA championships, all coaches were doing the math with one round left and the Gophers holding a 104-101 ½ point lead. The Cowboys, still mathematically alive with four finalists, could only sit and watch Saturday morning as the Nittany Lions and Gophers went back and forth.
"One of the things we worked on was their focus, their concentration, and what really stands out with this group is that wrestle as a team because they really care about each other," said Minnesota boss J Robinson, trying to give his program a fourth team title and first since 2007. "When you look at it, [Steinhaus] finished strong … he dropped that first match but got it back in the [fifth-place match].
"We have a chance to win and that is what we came here for."
Asked if the veteran coach was looking forward to Saturday night, Robinson laughed, "yes and no … it's going to be pretty intense."
In order to win a fourth consecutive national title, head coach Cael Sanderson's Nittany Lions will most likely need two wins from its senior stars this Saturday night.
"I wouldn't say it's fun," Sanderson said. "Maybe looking back you'd say it's fun. We're all competitors. This is what we do. This is what we enjoy doing.
"If you're in a fight, you're in a fight. Those are the ones you look back on and I think you appreciate the most."
Prior to Saturday's wrestling, Sanderson had a message for his team.
"It was definitely a message of being grateful for the opportunity and we have a chance to win a national title. What more could you want? I think we gave ourselves a chance, these guys, by the way we finished here strong. Minnesota's nails, too. It's what makes it fun."
The NCAA committee moved the 165-pound final to the end of the evening's festivities. It includes Penn State's David Taylor and Oklahoma State's Tyler Caldwell with team title implications on the line.
Saturday's first session was an emotional rollercoaster.
Penn State started the day with a ½-point advantage. Sanderson's squad inched in front a little more when 125-pounder Nico Megaludis beat Iowa's Cory Clark in a wrestleback.
Edinboro's Fighting Scots factored into the team race, not for the title, but in beating Penn State's Zain Retherford and Minnesota's David Thorn. Mitchell Port, the top seed at 141, beat Retherford with a takedown in a second overtime. A.J. Schopp hammered Thorn in a 133-pound wrestleback.
With the Nittany Lions holding a four-point lead, junior Matt Brown faced-off with Minnesota's Logan Storley, also a junior. Keeping with the theme of down-to-the-wire finishes, the two All-Americans required overtime.
Gopher faithful exploded when Storley finished a double-leg to win 3-1 and cut the lead to ½ point.
Like Edinboro, Old Dominion decided to have a small part in script when Jack Dechow beat UM's Kevin Steinhaus in a 184-pound bout.
The Gopher contingent exploded a second time when Scott Schiller edged Duke's Conner Hartman in a 197-pound wrestleback semifinal. Schiller's narrow 4-3 victory put UM in front by three points, 97 ½ to 94 ½. Oklahoma State, with only one wrestler on Saturday morning, saw hopes of title No. 35 start to fade.
Wrestling for third, fifth and seventh, meant everything at the 2014 championships.
Megaludis, now a three-time All-American, beat Virginia Tech's Joey Dance for third. The Gopher lead was two points.
A medical forfeit at 141 pounds gave Penn State two crucial points.
When Nittany Lion senior James English wrestled Oklahoma's Kendric Maple for seventh place at 149 pounds around noon, PSU and UM were tied with 98 ½ points. English's overtime victory against the 2013 NCAA champion gave the three-time champions a one-point lead.
Back came Brown, beating Iowa's Mike Evans for fifth. Moments later, it was Storley again, beating Nebraska's Robert Kokesh for third. Steinhaus, now a three-time All-American, provided huge points when he hammered Penn's Lawrence Thomas 17-2 in his final collegiate bout.
Schiller went after Iowa State's Kyven Gadson with thoughts of a team trophy in mind. He held on for a 9-6 victory.
When the dust settled, and one session remained, the numbers show Minnesota with two going Saturday night -- Dylan Ness and Tony Nelson -- and Penn State with a pair of aces -- Taylor and Ed Ruth. Oklahoma State has four on Saturday night's stage, but they trail UM by 16 ½ points.
A wild season might still have something wild left in the tank.