OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - Three-time defending NCAA champion Penn State needed a little help to make it four in a row Saturday night at the 2014 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Heading into the finals, Minnesota led Penn State, 104-101.5, and each team had two finalists. Oklahoma State was in the race, too, with four finalists and 87.5 points. Both Nittany Lions won, both Golden Gophers lost, Oklahoma State went 2-2 and Penn State was again crowned champion.
Seniors Ed Ruth (184 pounds) and David Taylor (165) won championships, junior Nico Megaludis (125) placed third, freshman Zain Retherford (141) and junior Matt Brown (174) placed fifth and sixth-year senior James English (149) and sophomore Morgan McIntosh (197) finished seventh.
Penn State’s David Taylor celebrates after defeating Oklahoma State’s Tyler Caldwell in the 165-pound finals of the NCAA Division I wrestling championships Saturday in Oklahoma City, Okla.
Penn State’s Ed Ruth, right, controls Maryland's Jimmy Sheptock during their 184-pound championship bout at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships Saturday in Oklahoma City, Okla. Ruth won his third national championship with a 7-2 decision over Sheptock.
Penn State finished with 109.5 points, Minnesota with 104 and Oklahoma State with 96.5.
"We're just very grateful for everything, for the opportunity. Our kids really did a fantastic job today. We knew we had our hands full and Minnesota was killing it," Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said.
The Nittany Lions are just the third team to win four titles in a row, joining Oklahoma State and Iowa.
"It's satisfying now. It was a long three days. It's going to be a lot easier to sleep tonight," Sanderson said.
"It was a tough tournament. This was a tough year. Minnesota had a very tough team and not only a tough team but they have tough kids. They wrestled hard and they responded. They stepped up to the challenge and they wrestled well."
For the second consecutive year, the NCAA changed the starting weight of the finals. Last year it was a nod to the brilliance of Cornell's Kyle Dake and Taylor. This year, it looked like the NCAA was trying to build drama with the team race so the first match was 174, which meant the last one would be Taylor vs. Oklahoma State's Tyler Caldwell at 165.
Oklahoma State's Chris Perry won his second title, this time 4-0 over rival Andrew Howe of Oklahoma at 174 to get the crowd into the night and increased Oklahoma State's point total to 91.5.
That brought up Ruth, matched with undefeated Maryland No. 1 seed Jimmy Sheptock.
As he is wont to do, Ruth got out of the gate fast, with a lightning-quick single to score a takedown just 17 seconds into the match. Sheptock escaped three seconds later, but the die had been cast. A little more than a minute later, Ruth struck again and rode Sheptock the rest of the period. He led 4-1 and had 1:30 in riding time.
"Going out there I never really have a game plan. As soon as I step on the line and other guy steps on the line I'm thinking about just taking 10 or 20 shots and getting to his legs," Ruth said.
"In my head I don't like to believe that people can fend me off. If I'm taking shots I like to believe I can always get to the leg. That just keeps me pushing for the next shot and the next shot after that."
Sheptock chose bottom and Ruth kept him there the entire second period. Ruth started down in the third and it took him just 17 seconds to score a reversal. He added a point for 3:26 in riding time for the 7-2 win that vaulted Penn State into the lead, 105.5-104.
Nobody would have predicted that North Carolina State sophomore Nick Gwiazdowski would upset two-time defending champion Tony Nelson of Minnesota. But the Wolfpack heavyweight did, 4-2. With Ruth winning, Penn State maintained its 105.5-104 lead.
Oklahoma State had to go 4-0 in the finals to have a chance to win, but when Northwestern's Jason Tsirtsis beat Oklahoma State's Josh Kindig at 149, the Cowboys' title hopes were over.
Minnesota had a chance to regain the lead at 157, but Oklahoma State's Alex Dieringer blasted Minnesota's Dylan Ness, 13-4, and Penn State's fourth championship in a row was locked up.
Taylor got off to a quick start like Ruth. He scored a takedown in 53 seconds and rode Oklahoma State's Tyler Caldwell for the rest of the period. In the second, the Nittany Lion escaped in 17 seconds and got another takedown with just under a minute to go. Caldwell chose neutral to start the third and neither wrestler scored, but Taylor got a point for 2:50 in riding time for a 6-0 win.
"There's a lot of emotion going on right now," Taylor said.
Taylor owned two previous wins over Caldwell this season. He majored him, 9-1, in the Southern Scuffle final and edged him, 5-2, in the dual meet at Rec Hall.
"To win four national championships, that's pretty special. When I think of my Penn State career I think tonight will be something I will remember for a very long time," Taylor said.
"Most kids dream of hitting the game-winning shot or scoring the game-winning touchdown, I dreamt of being part of an NCAA championship and having the championship on the line and winning and getting my hand raised."
Taylor was named the Outstanding Wrestler and the NCAA's most dominant wrestler of the season. He is also a heavy favorite to win his second Hodge Trophy, wrestling's version of football's Heisman.
Earlier in the day, five other Nittany Lions ended their tournaments with wins in the medal round.
Megaludis decisioned Iowa's Cory Clark, 5-2, in the consolation semifinals and then dominated Virginia Tech's Joey Dance, 6-1, in the third-place bout. He's a three-time All-American. He was runner-up his first two years.
Retherford gave up a takedown in the second sudden victory period and lost to Port, 3-1, in the consolation semifinals. He received a medical forfeit in the fifth-place bout.
"I wanted to win. I came in wanting to win the tournament. That didn't happen but it's early in my career yet. I've got at least three more opportunities here so I'm just looking forward to that," the true freshman said.
Brown lost 3-1 in sudden victory to Minnesota's Logan Storley in the consolation semifinals. Then, in the fifth-place bout, he met Iowa's Mike Evans for the fifth time this season. Evans beat Brown in the quarterfinals but Brown got revenge with a 6-3 win for fifth.
"I think the difference was he went out and scored again," Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. "Instead of, 'I got my takedown, I'm good to go,' he scored another takedown and that changes the whole mentality."
Perhaps the most compelling story of the tournament was English earning All-America status. The sixth-year senior has battled back, neck and shoulder injuries and it was only late this season he earned the starting nod.
English was paired with Oklahoma's Kendric Maple, who was the 141-pound champ a year ago. The match went into the tiebreaker period tied, 1-1. English escaped with 10 seconds to go in the first 30 seconds and then rode Maple for the whole 30 seconds to earn a 2-1 win and seventh-place finish.
After English had his hand raised, he ran to Sanderson, who picked him and slung him over his shoulder and carried him away.
"I thought and thought about bringing him in and saying, 'Hey, James, you don't need to spend the money to go to school again.' I was almost giving up on him there for a while. But he just kept coming and coming and it's just perseverance," Sanderson said.
"It's not even about the team race, it's just about a kid who just kept fighting. To go out with a win in a crucial time, that's a big deal. That's an emotional deal. That was pretty cool."
English was still in tears moments later when he addressed the media and talked about his ride on his coach's shoulder.
"It was pretty awesome. I look up to our coaches. They're not only the best coaches but the best people in the world. Cael told me after the match that I made him so proud and that meant the world to me. Just that feeling at the end was awesome," he said.
English's battle resonated not only with Sanderson, who delivered an emotional retelling of the sixth-year senior's journey at the post-championship press conference, but Taylor mentioned him when he was being interviewed after he won his title. And, earlier in the day, after English had been interviewed by reporters, English walked into the Penn State locker room and the place erupted in cheers.
McIntosh decisioned Iowa's Nathan Burak, 3-1, to take seventh.