STATE COLLEGE - One week ago, the Penn State wrestling team proved there is a huge difference between the second-ranked team in the country and the 23rd ranked team as the Lions hammered Pitt by the final of 28-9.
Sunday afternoon at Rec Hall, Penn State opened its Big Ten season by hosting the 6th-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes, and the difference was just as huge as the Lions ripped the Buckeyes by the final of 31-6.
"I think our guys are wrestling really well," said Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson. "For the most part, they were loose and really opened up. We saw a lot of attempts, and that's obviously what we want to see. If you make a mistake you hustle out of it. As a program we just want to keep getting better each match, so I think this is exciting. To see Zain wrestle so well, and our other freshman and young kids doing well is exciting because they're just going to keep getting better each match, and that's part of the plan. I thought all the guys really wrestled well."
Nico Megaludis got the Lions' ball rolling at a fast pace at 125 when he used six takedowns to record a 21-4 technical fall over former North Star standout Nick Roberts.
Ohio State picked up its first of only two wins at 133 when Johnni DiJulius used a time advantage point to edge Jimmy Gulibon 3-2.
After two bouts, the Lions led by a 5-3 spread, and in the next two bouts, two upsets sent the Lions on a 6-bout win streak that netted them 22 team points for a commanding 27-3 lead, and they never looked back.
Lighting the fire for the Lions at 141 was Zain Retherford as the true freshman from Benton High School handed two-time NCAA champion Logan Stieber his first loss of the season. Stieber had previously won all nine of his bouts, all by bonus point margins.
"I usually don't celebrate too much after a match," said the Lion freshman. "The crowd definitely got me pretty fired up after that match and I kind of lost my head for a second, but right after the match, it was electric in there. It was exciting. I did exactly what I always do after a match. I went down to the room, cooled down, got my conditioning in, came back up and it felt like normal."
Stieber led 2-1 after one period, but that is when Retherford exhibited his strength by pounding the Buckeye for the entire two minutes of the middle period with a tough ride.
"I'm pretty confident with legs. I always ride legs," said Retherford. That's what I'm known for on top. I don't throw them in unless I feel pretty confident that I can ride. The crowd helped a lot today and it worked out for the best."
The two wrestlers went through a scoreless third period, and with time advantage, Retherford received the tying point, sending the bout into overtime.
In the extra period, Retherford got in on a low single, moved his hips into good position, and eventually trapped both legs for a takedown to send the Rec Hall crowd and coach Cael Sanderson into a frenzy.
"He just did a great job of staying calm and just kept wrestling through all the positions," said Sanderson. "He was relaxed and ready to go, and that's exciting to see that because that's what the great wrestlers have. They're calm and relaxed by being ready and they are confident and not worried about who they're wrestling. They are going to do the best they can and plan on winning and that's what Zain did."
With Retherford's huge upset in the books, it was Zack Beitz's turn, and the former Juniata High standout was up to the task as he threw a little gas on the fire by defeating Buckeye veteran Ian Paddock by a 5-3 final.
After a scoreless first period, Paddock escaped and Beitz went up 2-1 with a takedown. The two wrestlers traded reversals as a result of a flurry for a 4-3 Beitz lead heading home.
Starting the final period from the defensive position, Beitz was able to escape and the two wrestlers ended the bout on their feet for the 5-3 Beitz win.
As for watching Retherford upset the top-ranked wrestler, Beitz said it pumped him up a little bit.
"Yeah, it did because it's always good seeing your teammates win, especially getting a big win," Beitz said. "It was definitely exciting to see a teammate take down a number one ranked guy. It was encouraging to go out there knowing that it happened. It made it a lot of fun."
As for his approach to also wrestling a ranked guy, Beitz said he didn't do anything differently in his preparation or his approach to the match.
"Nothing really out of the ordinary," he said. "Just going hard in practice, keeping the pace high, hitting your stuff, and going hard."
James Vollrath turned in his second straight strong effort at 157 when he dominated Randy Langius for five takedowns en route to an 11-5 win. With the Vollrath victory, the Lion lead had surged to 14-3 at halftime of the meet.
Following the break, David Taylor also showed his expertise in the neutral position as he slicked Joe Grandominico seven times. Taylor added five back points and with time, walked away with an easy 20-5 technical fall.
After Matt Brown had to settle for a 2-1 lead over Mark Martin at the end of one period, Brown turned things up a notch as he pounded Martin for 13 points through the final four minutes plus time for a 16-4 major decision.
After missing 30 days due to disciplinary actions, two-time NCAA champion Ed Ruth returned to the lineup and showed no signs of being out of the lineup as he pounded Kenny Courts for a 14-3 major.
Fifth-ranked senior Nick Heflin temporarily stopped the Buckeye bleeding at 197 with a 3-1 win over out-manned Wes Phipps before Jimmy Lawson set the final by hammering Nick Tavanello for a 15-4 major decision at 285.
Lawson showed his athleticism by racking up five takedowns in his runaway win.
Now 6-0 for the season, the next action for the Lions will be Saturday when they travel to Carver Hawkeye Arena for a dual meet with third-ranked Iowa. First whistle for that meet is set for 9 p.m.