Penn State finishes off comeback, Lehigh
ALLENTOWN — With just one match to go in Sunday’s dual meet between No. 1 Penn State and No. 5 Lehigh, the Nittany Lions clung to a 20-19 lead.
As Penn State heavyweight Nick Nevills was about to take the mat with the win in the balance, Lion 157-pounder Jason Nolf approached him.
Surely Nolf would give him words of encouragement to pump him up, right? Well, sort of.
“Right before I went out there, Jason Nolf came back and told me, ‘This is just like any other match,” Nevills recounted, “except, you lose, we lose the streak and everything else. I was like, ‘Yeah, I know.’ It was pretty exciting.”
Nevills’ 2-0 win gave Penn State a closer-than-expected 23-19 victory, extending its dual meet win streak to 35 matches in front of 9,896 fans, a Lehigh home dual meet record, in the PPL Center in Allentown.
After a scoreless first period, Nevills escaped in the second and then rode Lehigh’s Jordan Wood for the entire third period for a riding time point and the win.
“I’m confident in Nick. I really wasn’t nervous about it,” Penn State 149-pounder Zain Retherford said.
The Nittany Lions won six of 10 bouts but could produce just two bonus point wins. The Mountain Hawks scored two falls and a major decision in three of their four wins. Penn State was without the services of two starters: 133-pounder Corey Keener and 165-pounder Vincenzo Joseph. Lehigh earned bonus-point wins in each of those matches.
“We’re really proud of the way our guys fought today,” Lehigh coach Pat Santoro said. “They showed up to wrestle. When you show up to wrestle, good things can happen. This will sting for a little bit, but we’ll move forward.”
Penn State coach Cael Sanderson gave credit to both teams.
“I think it was a great event. I think we wrestled fine. I think Lehigh wrestled great. I think in the matches they needed bonus points, they got ’em. I thought 141 was a match we needed to get, but they took that one,” he said. “It was a great match. It comes down to heavyweight. It was great for our team. I don’t think we’ve been in a dogfight like that for a while.”
The Nittany Lions (4-0) haven’t been that close to a dual meet loss since they fell to Oklahoma State, 21-18, on Feb. 15, 2015. The Lions have won every dual meet since.
Lehigh (4-1) took full advantage of Keener’s absence from the lineup due to an injury to race out to a 15-0 lead after three bouts.
Lehigh’s 125-pound defending NCAA champion Darian Cruz made quick work of Devin Schnupp, locking up a near cradle and getting the fall at 1:13.
Scott Parker followed with another fall, in 4:12, over backup Dominic Giannangeli, who was making his varsity debut, at 133.
Then, at 141, Luke Karam fended off two takedown attempts by Jered Cortez in the first period and then escaped in the second and rode Cortez the entire third period for a riding time point and a 2-0 win.
“It was as good as could be expected, to get out to the early lead, because their horses are on the back side,” Santoro said. “The guys went out, fought hard, did what they needed to do to put us in a position to win.”
Whatever hope the Mountain Hawk faithful had accumulated quickly dissipated after the next two matches. Zain Retherford made quick work of Cortlandt Schuyler, going chest to chest and scoring the fall in 1:27. Then, at 157, Nolf rolled up 11 takedowns in a 23-8 technical fall over Ian Brown in 6:40 to cut Lehigh’s lead to 15-11 at the break.
The Mountain Hawks padded their lead with a major at 165. With Joseph out — a decision Sanderson said he regretted in the middle of the match but was for precautionary reasons — Bo Pipher made his varsity debut. He was no match for Gordon Wolf, who piled up eight takedowns in a 24-12 win to push the Mountain Hawk’s lead to 19-11.
Penn State had two defending national champions and a returning All-American in three of the last four weights, so many expected the Nittany Lions to pull out the win. Few of those expected it to be as difficult as it was.
A slick duck under for a takedown in the second and an escape in the third gave Mark Hall a 3-2 decision over No. 5 Jordan Kutler at 174. Bo Nickal used a first-period takedown and a second-period escape to fashion a 3-2 decision over No. 4 Ryan Preisch.
Sanderson bristled at the notion that those two Nittany Lions wrestled defensively.
“They met good wrestlers. I don’t think our guys were trying to be conservative,” he said.
With Lehigh’s lead down to 19-17, Anthony Cassar gave Penn State its first lead of the day with an 8-3 win at 197. Cassar recorded two takedowns in each of the first and third periods to earn the win over Jake Jacobsen.
With the win in hand and the streak intact, Sanderson said neither mattered as much as making sure the Nittany Lions were positioned to perform their best in March and they were making progress to get there.
“We want to win, obviously, but I’m not worried about a streak, or anything along that line. We want to be the best that we can and see progress in our team. I think we’re seeing that,” he said. “Lehigh is a very good team, which helps us to go back and work on some things we need to do. We got out of here by the skin of our teeth, but regardless, we’ve got to go back and get better.”
Penn State next hosts Indiana Dec. 17.