On paper, No. 1 Penn State’s dual against No. 6 Ohio State could have been close. If certain matches fell in the Buckeyes' favor, Ohio State could have pulled out the win. But Penn State wrestling is known for one thing — winning. The Nittany Lions lived up to their hype Friday night, topping the Buckeyes in all but three matchups to win 28-9.
The Nittany Lions took an early team lead in the dual with an upset win from Roman Bravo-Young at 133 pounds and another upset win from No. 5 Nick Lee at 141 pounds to send an added ripple of energy through the Penn State bench. At 149, Jarod Verkleeren battled Ohio State’s two-time All-American Micah Jordan to the final seconds of the third, but ultimately dropped the match 10-8 to give Ohio State three team points before Penn State unleashed No. 1 Jason Nolf. The senior defending national champion cruised to a 21-6 tech fall for the night's first bonus points, and 165-pound defending champion teammate Vincenzo Joseph added four more team points with his 11-2 major decision over No. 12 Te'Shan Campbell.
Penn State's No. 2-ranked 184-pounder Shakur Rasheed sat out with an injury, sending Mason Manville into the fire to compete with 2017 national champion No. 1 Myles Martin. Even with a major decision, Martin could not deliver his team enough momentum to chase down the Nittany Lions in the team race. The deadly Penn State lineup of No. 1-ranked wrestlers at 157, 165, 174 and 197 delivered the Nittany Lions the all the points necessary to notch the team win before senior Anthony Cassar and sophomore Devin Schnupp took the mat for the final two bouts.
The win marks the last big challenge for the top-ranked Nittany Lions and makes them the team to beat at the Big Ten and NCAA tournament. Penn State wrestled with that target on its back all year, but this match proved that not even the Buckeyes have the manpower to take down the Nittany Lions just yet. Here are the three takeaways from the Big Ten battle:
1. Roman Bravo-Young is back
Penn State’s freshman 133-pounder sat out the last two weekends during the Indiana and Michigan duals after injuring his knee in a loss against Purdue, but Bravo-Young made his return against the Buckeyes, and he did so in style. Ranked No. 15 in the country, Bravo-Young held No. 6 Luke Pletcher scoreless in the first period of the ranked matchup but racked up an escape in the second to lead 1-0 after five minutes. Pletcher followed with an escape of his own at the start of the third, and the match remained tied at 1-1 at the end of seven minutes, sending the contest to sudden victory. Bravo-Young chose down to start the first tiebreaker, looking for the escape, and he grabbed it to put himself up 2-1. Pletcher failed to match him escape-for-escape, ending the match 2-1 in Lee's favor and putting Penn State on the board early behind a clutch upset.
Bravo-Young ultimately lost a team point for Penn State after throwing his headgear on the mat, but his win still electrified his team and gave them powerful momentum heading into the remaining nine matches of the tight dual. The 133-pound match also showed the fans in the packed St. John Arena an initial glimpse what would be a major Big Ten battle between the two teams. Bravo-Young's win will move him up in the individual rankings, and, if he can stay healthy and injury-free, expect this freshman to make a deep run at the NCAA tournament.
2. Nick Lee is a fighter
The 141-match ended with just as much excitement and flair as the previous bout, with No. 5 Nick Lee earning a gritty 7-6 win on a last second takedown over Ohio State’s No. 2 Joey McKenna. Lee trailed the entire match, and when he did go for a match-tying takedown in the second period, the call was overturned. McKenna hit him with another takedown at the end of the second period, giving him 5-2 lead, but Lee wasn't done working. A third period escape-takedown combo from Lee tied the match, and while McKenna escaped taking a 6-5 lead, Lee came in for the winner with seconds left to wrestle. He scored a final takedown to notch a 7-6 win over a Top-5 opponent, and his victory added three key team points and brought the Nittany Lion lead to 5-0.
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The final score held particular meaning for Lee, as he lost by that same score to McKenna one year ago in this same dual. The win moves him to 21-1 with his only loss coming against No. 9 Tristan Moran in the Penn State-Wisconsin dual. Lee finished fifth in last year's NCAA tournament while McKenna took third, but Lee has shown he's capable of making a run for the top spot this year. He could face McKenna again at the Big Ten tournament, and perhaps a third time at nationals, but if he wants a title, he'll also have to beat out defending Cornell national champion Yianni Diakomihalis.
3. Jason Nolf and Bo Nickal can’t be stopped
The Jason Nolf and Bo Nickal show that has taken over college wrestling this season continued against Ohio State, with both athletes earning bonus points in the form of a technical fall and a fall, respectively. The Penn State seniors will likely battle each other out for the Hodge Trophy at the end of the year, and their performances against Ohio State showed why.
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Wrestling No. 6 Ke-Shawn Hayes, Nolf raced to 21-5 tech fall 5:51 into the match. He scored four first-period takedowns and extended his 8-3 first period lead to 14-6 after the second period before finishing the tech on four near fall points.
His match, on paper, should have been easier than the No. 1 vs. No. 2 battle Nickal faced with Ohio State's Kollin Moore, but Nickal defies expectation every time he puts on his Penn State singlet. The defending national champion one-upped his dominant teammate's tech fall and hit Moore with a pin 1:38 into the match to secure the team win before the heavyweight and 125-pound matches.
The only question left for Nolf and Nickal is how many bonus points they will score as they compete for their third national championship titles.
With the win, Penn State stays undefeated and extends its dual meet winning streak to 56, while Ohio State drops its second dual of the season to move to 9-2. The Buckeyes will have a chance at redemption at the Big Ten tournament next month, but Penn State showed no signs of weakness in Columbus.
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