PISCATAWAY, N.J. – By the time the clock ticked to zero, Nicholas Gravina admitted he wasn’t sure who had won the 184-pound bout. He was quickly reminded by the 2,652 fans cheering on their feet at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
Gravina got his hand raised with an upset win over No. 4 T.J. Dudley, two other Scarlet Knights secured upsets, and No. 11 Rutgers wrestling beat No. 4 Nebraska by criteria, 17-16, Saturday afternoon for its first Big Ten win of the season.
Rutgers (10-2, 1-1 Big Ten) prevailed, 51-48, in criterion 3.15.3 – total match points scored only from decisions, major decisions and technical falls – to claim its first Big Ten win in front of the N.J. faithful.
“It’s great to fill the arena and pack the RAC, but you want to win. Today was that day,” said head coach Scott Goodale. “I’ve been dying for one of those. We’ve been close and I just think what happened in the last 48 hours makes it even more special.”
“We needed a huge upset somewhere, and Nick got it.”
Rutgers’ win was its second over a top-10 opponent this season and fifth against a team ranked in the USA Today/NWCA Coaches Poll. What’s more, the victory secured the program’s first top-five win since a 24-7 rout against Virginia Tech at the RAC on Jan. 21, 2011.
Gravina earned his first victory over a ranked opponent in his young RU career.
The Northern Highlands Regional HS product started the period on bottom, reversed Dudley with 1:25 on the clock and rode out the All-American the rest of the way. The win tied the dual at 13-13 with two matches remaining.
“I just tried to wrestle as hard as I could and it worked out,” Gravina said. “Just like everyone other match, I had to push pace, go as hard as I could, try to score as much as possible, not to go too much over the head, and that was it.”
Senior Hayden Hrymack took No. 16 Aaron Studebaker to the wire at 197 pounds.
Neither wrestler scored a takedown in regulation or a minute of sudden victory, but Studebaker reversed Hrymack in the first round of tiebreakers and hung on for the 3-1 win.
With the dual favoring the Cornhuskers (7-1, 1-1 Big Ten), 16-13, entering heavyweight, Rutgers needed redshirt senior Billy Smith to deliver.
The No. 6-ranked heavyweight in the nation did just that with an 8-2 win against No. 13 Collin Jensen. The point differential in Smith’s bout gave Rutgers enough to score the criteria point and snap Nebraska’s 16-dual winning streak.
Consecutive upset wins at 157 and 165 pounds were key in leading RU to victory Saturday afternoon.
Junior Richie Lewis got the trend started with a 10-3 decision against No. 10 Tyler Berger. The No. 17-ranked Lewis (8-1) took Berger down three times and got a four-point tilt in the win – his first against a ranked opponent.
“After I won coach Goodale said to me ‘this is what you came here for,” Lewis said. “To wrestle at the RAC and be on a team like this with nine of my brothers is exactly what I came here for.”
Redshirt senior Anthony Perrotti kept the momentum going with a 9-4 decision against No. 4 Austin Wilson. Wilson held a 3-2 lead entering the second period, but Perrotti (10-1) reversed five seconds in and scored five additional points to put it away. The win, Perrotti’s team-leading fourth against a ranked opponent, brought the dual to a 10-10 tie with four matches to go.
“It’s huge. As coach said, the last 48 hours were really tough,” Perrotti said. “We went out to Iowa and we got beat eight matches to two, and to say that me and Anthony [Ashnault] picked up the only ‘Ws’ – we were not happy with our performance at all. Waking up this morning I just felt different. I felt ready. I felt prepared.”
Early on the Huskers had control, with No. 10 Tim Lambert (125 pounds), No. 9 Eric Montoya (133 pounds), and No. 7 Jake Sueflohn (149 pounds) all earning wins to give Nebraska a 10-4 dual lead.
RU broke through at 141 pounds thanks to No. 3 Anthony Ashnault against No. 17 Anthony Abidin. Ashnault lost twice to the Husker last season, but made a statement Saturday with an 11-2 major decision.
Ashnault (11-0) is off to the best start of his career and has topped three top-20 opponents. Seven of his 11 wins were by bonus-points.
“We’re more of a team than we’ve ever been,” Ashnault said. “We’re one unit. Everyone gets along really well. The 30 guys on the team are my best friends and I wouldn’t want to be spending time with anyone else. This is what I came to Rutgers for, to be a part of things like this. It’s really cool to see it all come true.”