ST. LOUIS -- Ohio State rookie Bo Jordan brought out the banana splits to pin Illinois’ Jackson Morse in the bronze medal bout at 165 pounds. The extra points pushed the Buckeyes’ margin to 93-82 against second place Iowa and brought the team trophy ever closer to Columbus.
The conclusion of Saturday’s first session removed all doubt.
“I feel great, a bit relieved because we saw that Iowa was coming back strong,” Ohio State head coach Tom Ryan said. “Proud for an amazing institution that supports wrestling. 1921 was the first year of wrestling at Ohio State … what’s the math on that? … 94 years since the beginning of this program and we win our first championship.
"It was 64 years since our last Big Ten championship; ‘I Love Lucy’ was the number one show on television I think.
“I’m just so happy for all the people [in Ohio], all the coaches, everybody in Buckeye Nation. I’m so proud of the way these guys fought this weekend.”
The Hawkeyes made a small run Saturday morning when Thomas Gilman pinned Cornell’s Nahshon Garrett and Brandon Sorensen beat Garrett’s teammate, Chris Villalonga, in the wrestleback semifinals. It brought Iowa within 4.5 points, but two wins by Jordan and another by unseeded 184-pounder Kenny Courts, coupled with a handful of tough losses for the Hawkeyes, provided the coup-de-grace.
“We knew bonus points were big this week, so every time we took the mat we were looking for pins, techs, major decisions,” said Jordan (22-2), who edged Virginia’s Nick Sulzer 6-5 earlier in the session.
Despite a tournament-high six All-Americans, head coach Tom Brands’ squad qualified just one -- Corey Clark -- for Saturday night’s finals. Ohio State’s Nathan Tomasello, Logan Stieber and Kyle Snyder will wrestle for the top prize.
The order of march for the 10 finals bouts was changed to focus on Stieber’s attempt to win a fourth national title. Only Oklahoma State’s Pat Smith, Iowa State’s Cael Sanderson and Cornell’s Kyle Dake have accomplished that feat. Edinboro senior Mitchell Port (37-1) stands in the way of history.
Oklahoma State 165-pounder Alex Dieringer (33-0) and North Carolina State’s Nick Gwiazdowski (34-0) will each seek a second national title. Only three programs -- Ohio State, Cornell and Edinboro -- have more than one athlete in the finals.
Edinboro sits 8.5 points behind Iowa in third with Missouri and Cornell rounding out the top five. Penn State, team champions the past four years, are in sixth.
Saturday’s first session is about finishing strong, earning medals and -- for some -- ending a lifetime’s worth of commitment to the sport. The goal is of course a national championship, of competing on the big stage on Saturday night in front of a nationally-televised audience.
Those goals are reached by just 20 of the 330 entries.
For Edinboro senior 133-pounder A.J. Schopp, injuries influenced his final campaign on the mat. Schopp entered this week as a No. 9 seed with a 19-2 record. The week started with a 4-2 loss. On Saturday morning he pinned Penn State’s James Gulibon to move into the bronze medal bout where the three-time All-American beat Minnesota’s Chris Dardanes 4-3 in his final collegiate bout. Schopp ranks No. 1 in school history with 54 pins. He won seven matches after losing Thursday morning.
“That first match I don’t know what was going on,” said Schopp (26-3). “People were asking me what changed? After that first loss something had to have changed me; I came back with four pins after just getting by in that first [wrestleback] match. I could have been done the first day.
“I was worried, but I’m happy with the way I finished. It’s not what I came here for, but to come back like I did was a good way to end it.”
Nebraska’s James Green and Robert Kokesh, two senior leaders for head coach Mark Manning, finished their careers with top eight finishes. The duo have a combined seven All-America medals.
Kokesh’s final career bout required an overtime takedown to beat fellow senior Logan Storley of Minnesota for third at 174 pounds. Storley -- a top seed and Wagner, South Dakota product -- entered the week unbeaten and finishes 40-1 with three All-America medals.
Green beat Virginia Tech’s Nick Brascetta for third at 157 pounds to finish his final campaign 35-5 and as a four-time All-American.
Missouri’s Alan Waters, a senior from Kansas City, entered as a top seed but finished third with a thrilling victory against Gilman in the bronze medal match.
“I just wanted to go out there and have fun because it’s my last match out there,” said Waters (35-1). “I was really crushed yesterday, so I had to overcome that and just go try and get team points. My team needed me today so I had to go out and get that done.”
There are 32 programs with at least one All-American in 2015. The Big 12 Conference’s four programs totaled seven, but four of them advanced to the finals -- West Virginia’s Zeke Moisey, Oklahoma’s Cody Brewer, Oklahoma State’s Alex Dieringer and Iowa State’s Kyven Gadson. The Big Ten has eight finalists, three from Ohio State.
6 -- Iowa
5 -- Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Missouri, Minnesota
4 -- Oklahoma State, Cornell, Edinboro, Virginia Tech
3 -- Wisconsin, Nebraska, Lehigh
2 -- Old Dominion, North Carolina State, Northwestern, Illinois, North Dakota State
1 -- Iowa State, Arizona State, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Duke, Rutgers, Lock Haven, Rider, Kent State, Indiana, Stanford, North Carolina, Virginia, Pittsburgh
3 -- Ohio State
2 -- Edinboro, Cornell
1 -- Iowa, West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Pittsburgh, Penn State, Lehigh, Iowa State, North Carolina State, Michigan
Long road back
Also at 133 pounds like Schopp, Lehigh’s Mason Beckman (30-8) dropped a first-round match but battled back with six victories before falling to Dardanes. Beckman, now a two-time All-American, lost to Penn State’s James Gulibon in the fifth-place bout.
“[Thursday morning] was hard,” admitted Beckman. “My season-long dream died, but I talked to the coaches and my teammates and just came to the conclusion that I had put too much work and done too many things to go quietly into the night.”
North Dakota State’s Hayden Zilmer exited the winner’s bracket on Thursday. The sixth-seeded junior came back to win five consecutive matches before a loss to Edinboro’s Victor Avery. Zilmer (38-6) ended up sixth.
Iowa senior heavyweight Bobby Telford dropped his first match and came back to win the next five (two by pin). He won his final match to take fifth.
Exit stage left
Minnesota 157-pounder Dylan Ness has been a fan favorite with his go-for-broke style throughout his career. The senior was injured in the semifinals Friday night and injury defaulted his two matches Saturday morning to finish sixth.
Ness was a two-time NCAA finalist and four-time All-American. His 37 career pins rank ninth in school history. Not just Gopher fans, but most of those in attendance for the morning session gave Ness a nice ovation as he exited the arena floor.
Ness joined Illinois’ Jesse Delgado, Ohio State’s Hunter Stieber and Oklahoma State’s Josh Kindig to lose to the injury bug this week.
A tough week
Most admit officials have a tough job figuring out the wild scrambles and necessary points that result. But two times, most admit, interpretations were a bit shaky during this week’s tournament. A 157-pound semifinal on Friday night required an NCAA release admitting a scoring error.
During Saturday morning’s session, the 174-pound wrestleback semifinal between Oklahoma State’s Kyle Crutchmer and Minnesota’s Logan Storley went to video review multiple times and resulted in a head-scratching outcome after the two wrestlers scrambled during the final moments.
Coaches, administrators and maybe the Missouri National Guard, hovered around the table of Mat 3 for almost 10 minutes trying to figure things out. Storley eventually won 9-7 with a near-fall in the first set of tiebreakers.