If ever a match epitomized the current wild 2013-14 wrestling season it was the 174-pound final at the Big 12 Championships in Norman, Okla., on Saturday. With the team race decided – Oklahoma State won its 12th Big 12 team title -- the feature 174-pound finals matchup between Oklahoma's Andrew Howe and Oklahoma State's Chris Perry was moved to the end of the evening's docket.
Howe entered at 24-0 with Perry at 24-1, the only loss coming to the 2010 NCAA champion who transferred to Norman from Wisconsin. The Cowboy senior won the 2013 NCAA title at the weight class.
After a scoreless first three minutes of physical hand-fighting, Perry was able to ride Howe for the duration of the second period. The third period saw three video reviews, coaches and fans going raising their blood pressure levels, and one final mad scramble that saw Perry desperately trying to avoid giving up points.
In the end it was Perry with a 3-2 victory thanks to riding time.
"I got a little emotionally tired during the match, not knowing what the score was and all the stuff that was going on," Perry said. "At some point calls have to be made, whatever they are and not everybody is going to be happy. Hopefully, the next time the match doesn't turn out like that.
"[Howe] is the guy to beat. I felt like I could ride him after doing a ton of video work. I feel like March is my time. This is a big win, but we all know that the next tournament is the big one."
Perry became just the fifth four-time Big 12 champion and was one of six champions for the Cowboys, joining Jon Morrison (133), Anthony Collica (141), Alex Dieringer (157), Tyler Caldwell (165), and Austin Marsden (285).
Iowa State's Kyven Gadson kept his No. 1 ranking intact, beating Oklahoma's Travis Rutt in two tiebreakers in the 197-pound finals. Another Cyclone, Gabe Moreno, proved that the postseason means new life.
On a 10-match losing streak, Moreno, a redshirt-freshman, upset the top seed in his first match before losing in the 141-pound final. The weight class qualified two spots for the NCAA Championships, March 20-22.
"I have had a lot of support around me the last few months," said Moreno, who will take a 16-19 record into the NCAA Championships. "Once you get to this point, sometimes you just have to let it fly. I was in a position [in the second period], I went for it and it worked out."
And Then There Were …
The ranks of the unbeaten continue to shrink. Howe took his first loss in 25 matches in the Big 12 finals to Perry. In Madison, Wis., Penn State rookie Zain Retherford dropped his rematch with Ohio State's Logan Stieber in the 141-pound final. Retherford is now 29-1.
Edinboro's Mitchell Port, the EWL champion at 141 pounds, will take a 26-0 record to Oklahoma City. Penn State's David Taylor rolled to his fourth Big Ten title on Sunday and enters his final collegiate tournament at 29-0. Maryland's Jim Sheptock (28-0) won his third ACC title this weekend and is expected to be the No. 1 seed in OKC.
A Scary Thought
Former Nebraska star Jordan Burroughs, a reigning World and Olympic champion in freestyle, tweeted on Sunday: "@WhoIsJamesG has the best double leg in the world! Congrats champ!" Burroughs was referring to current Husker 157-pounder James Green, who beat Iowa's Derek St. John, 7-4, in the Big Ten finals and will take a 29-1 record to the NCAA Championships. Burroughs won a pair of Big 12 titles; Green's was the first title for a Husker as a member of the Big Ten. If Green's double leg attack does in fact rival Burroughs, watch out OKC.
The Brutal Big Tens
The Big Ten Conference, as expected, produced a down-to-the-wire finish. And, as expected, Penn State claimed another league crown, outdistancing Iowa by 5 ½ points. Minnesota was 16 ½ behind the Hawkeyes. PSU's Taylor and Ed Ruth (29-1 at 184) each became four-time conference champions and Nico Megaludis (125), Zain Retherford (141), and Morgan McIntosh (197) each lost in the finals. Iowa went 1-3 in finals matches, crowning Tony Ramos (27-2) at 133 pounds.
Illinois' Jesse Delgado (23-2) beat Megaludis in two tiebreakers in a rematch of the 2013 NCAA finals. Iowa rookie Cory Clark took his first two losses of the season, finishing fourth after losing to fellow freshman Ryan Taylor of Wisconsin. Four of the top eight at 125 were rookies.
Minnesota's Tony Nelson (26-4) won the difficult heavyweight bracket, beating Indiana's Adam Chalfant in the finals. Michigan's Adam Coon entered as the top-ranked 285-pounder, but went 0-2 with losses to Penn State's Jon Gingrich and Ohio State's Nick Tavanello, who were a combined 43-25 entering the postseason.
Nebraska had two champions -- Green, who won a very tough 157-pound bracket, which included five of the top six in the national rankings, and Robert Kokesh (32-1), a sophomore who won an equally tough 174-pound division that featured four of the top six.
Ohio State also had two at the top of the medal stand -- Logan Stieber (25-1), who avenged his only loss of 2013, and veteran Nick Heflin (24-4), who beat McIntosh in the 197-pound finale.
Northwestern rookie Jason Tsirtsis (27-3) was champion at 149 pounds.
The Big Ten earned 74 allocations. You can bet, however, that of the four at-large bids per weight given on Wednesday plenty will go to Big Ten wrestlers.
Virginia Tech won its second consecutive ACC title, outdistancing first-year league member Pittsburgh by twenty points. The Panthers were 1-4 in finals bouts, crowning Tyler Wilps at 174. Virginia Tech's Devin Carter returned to the mat, beating Pitt's Edgar Bright in the 141-pound final. Dennis Gustafson (133), Zach Neibert (149), and Chris Penny (184) all earned titles for the Hokies. Carter, just released last week to wrestle, earned the Outstanding Wrestler Award.
"It's a nice, sentimental award, but Dennis Gustafson deserves this as much as I do," Carter said "He's a true freshman who put up bonus points in all three matches and won 11-0 in the finals. Three weeks ago, I thought I'd be a spectactor along with everyone else at this event and to do all this, capped by the Outstanding Wrestler award, is just amazing."
As expected, Cornell ran away with the EIWA title. Lehigh was a distant second, 64 ½ points back. Nahshon Garrett (29-1 at 125), Chris Villalonga (28-2 at 149), Gabe Dean (32-2 at 184), and Jace Bennett (26-9 at 197) were all champions for the Big Red. Lehigh's top-seeded Eliot Riddick had an interesting tournament, losing by fall at 6:59 of his first match but winning five in a row to finish third at 174 pounds.
Harvard's Todd Preston was a surprise champion at 141 pounds. The unranked Blair Academy product beat Hofstra's Luke Vaith in the finals in a weight class that included three of the nation's top ten ranked 141-pounders -- Cornell's Mike Nevinger was fifth and Franklin & Marshall's Richard Durso was third.
Missouri edged UNI by 2 1/2 points to claim top honors in the MAC. MU's J'Den Cox (33-2) avenged a regular season loss to Ohio's Phil Wellington in the 197-pound final and joined teammate Drake Houdeshelt (34-1), the champion at 149, atop the medal stand. Brian Smith's Tigers did not take the lead until 184-pounder Cody Johnston scored a technical fall in a placement bout; Cox's major decision of Wellington provided the final nail in the coffin. Northern Iowa had four champions, led by 133-pounder Joe Colon (30-1) and 125-pound freshman Dylan Peters (31-4). Missouri won the 2012 Big 12 Championship before moving to the MAC and now winning back-to-back titles.
Edinboro ran away with the EWL title by 27 1/2 points. Pittsburgh, now in the ACC, had won the last four tournament titles. The Scots' one-two punch of AJ Schopp and Port continued to roll with Schopp (31-1) easily winning the 133-pound title and Port taking top honors at 141. It was Schopp's third EWL trophy and moves his career record to 103-12.
Bloomsburg 197-pounder Richard Perry continued his fine season, moving his win streak to twenty-nine with a pair of victories. Rider had three champions, including 125-pound sophomore Rob Deutsch (29-4).
North Dakota State ended Wyoming's reign atop the West Regional standings, outdistancing the Cowboys, 74-66, for the 2014 team title. Bison 165-pounder Steven Monk (28-1) led the charge, scoring a pair of falls on his way to a title.
Chattanooga won the Southern Conference Championship, the program's eighth in the last nine years and 28th overall. The Moc's Corey Mock improved to 30-3 with a victory against The Citadel's Turtogtokh Luvsandorj in the 165-pound final.