STILLWATER – As expected Oklahoma State surged out to an early lead over Penn State in the NWCA Dual Championship Match, but the early lead turned out to be much larger than expected. An all-time Oklahoma State wrestling record crowd of 14,059 watched. Yes, that number is right as the fire marshal must have had a big heart allowing more fans into Gallagher-Iba Arena than there were seats for.
"I was pumped, excited because that was a great crowd," Oklahoma State head coach John Smith said afterwards. "These are like the golden days, old days. We've put some big crowds in Gallagher this year."
That huge crowd watched as second-ranked Nick Suriano of Penn State jumped out with a first period takedown but suffered an apparent sprained left ankle in the process. He was limping against the Cowboys 11th-ranked 125-pounder Nick Piccininni early in the second period and after an injury timeout that lasted for 1:28, Suriano came back but not for long before he was down again and this time could not continue. Oklahoma State had a 6-0 lead due to an injury default in a match where the Cowboys were not favored.
Oklahoma State was expected to win at 133 pounds in a big way as third-ranked Kaid Brock, the red-shirt freshman from Stillwater with a 22-1 record, was battling unranked George Carpenter of the Nittany Lions with a 1-11 mark this season. Brock charged out in the first period with two takedowns and after the second a four-point near fall. The lead kept building to 16-2 at one point, with Brock seriously threatening a technical fall, but give Carpenter credit as he navigated a late third period takedown and hung on to ride out the match giving Brock a 17-6 major decision and OSU a 10-0 lead.
Top-ranked and unbeaten Dean Heil also started fast with a first period takedown against 11th-ranked but dangerous Jimmy Gulibon. It was every bit as contentious as expected as Gulibon hopped on Heil's back several times and ate up time. In the end with a chance to win at 2-2, Gulibon released Heil and he was never able to score again in the final minute as Heil won his 33rd match in a row dating back to last season. The defending national champion won a 3-2 decision and gave the Cowboys a 13-0 team lead. Just what the Cowboys needed, but would it be enough?
"I've constantly been on a team that's been second in high school and now to Ohio State and Penn State in college," Heil said. "I'm wrestling a guy and win 3-2, maybe if I'd wrestled better and got a major then we'd have been in a better position."
Now it was time to enter Penn State's murderer's row.
Top-ranked and unbeaten Zain Retherford at 18-0 and second-ranked Cowboy Anthony Collica formed the most anticipated match of the dual, a true one versus two and it did not disappoint. A defensive battle, Retherford used his opportunity on top to earn 1:51 in riding time as the two wrestlers exchanged escapes. Collica was battling late in the third, shooting about every five seconds in the last 40 seconds of the match, but Retherford was careful and stayed unbeaten with a 2-1 decision as riding time was the deciding point. Penn State was on the board trailing 13-3.
"I thought Collica wrestled a good match, but you can't wait 'til the end and try to steal the match," Smith said. "You can't expect to get the takedown at the end. You have to wrestle every period, you have to wrestle to put yourself in a better position. He'll have a chance to improve."
The second top-ranked and unbeaten Nittany Lion in a row was 157-pound Jason Nolf at 18-0 and for the Cowboys it was sixth-ranked Joe Smith. Smith at 8-3 had his issues with injury and resulting inactivity during the season showed against Nolf. Nolf repeatedly was able to get deep into Smith and the takedowns were continuous throughout the match. Smith battled and even had a takedown of his own, but the fight to avoid a technical fall couldn't survive the riding time point, which when tacked on at the end of the match made it 24-9 in favor of Nolf and the Cowboys lead was thinned to 13-8.
By the end of the 165-pound match the Nittany Lions had it nearly back to even as fourth-ranked Vincenzo Joseph used a pair of takedowns sandwiched around an escape with a four-point near fall after the second takedown to grad a commanding 6-1 lead. An escape by the Cowboys eighth-ranked Chandler Rogers in the second made it 6-2, but in the third period Joseph got a quick escape starting in the down position and turned it into a takedown to go on to 12-4 major decision and pull the team score to 13-12 still in favor of the Cowboys.
Could 174 pounds be the turning point? Cowboys fans certainly hoped not and when ninth-ranked Kyle Crutchmer got a third period escape after starting down to tie the match at 1-1 and then proceeded to wrestle aggressively but as he got deep, the Lions seventh-ranked Mark Hall turned it around on him and maneuvered to get the takedown with seconds left. Crutchmer got an escape but it was Hall's decision 3-2 that put Penn State on top for the first time in the team score 15-13.
It got much worse just seconds later for the Cowboys as fourth-ranked Nolan Boyd, a guy that has answered the bell time and time again in the clutch in duals, took on Penn State's second-ranked 184-pounder Bo Nickal. Nickal used a quick takedown and then got Boyd in a cradle and it was over in 38 seconds with the official slapping the canvas and the fall put Penn State up 21-13.
In the third period at 197 pounds, a familiar story with a repeat as eighth-ranked Cowboy Preston Weigel had a lead in the third period, but two takedowns in the final period by the Nittany Lions ninth-ranked Matt McCutcheon resulted in a mild upset and gave the Lions an insurmountable 24-13 lead.
Penn State closed it out at heavyweight with thirrd-ranked Nick Nevils scoring a 10-5 decision over the Cowboys Derek White as John Smith left his ranked and injured 285-pounder Austin Schafer in the barn for the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments.
Penn State won every match after 141 and closed out a 27-13 National Duals Championship.
"We wrestled some mush matches," Smith said. "If we don't wrestle better, use this to improve before we go forward then we will be wrestling for second place. I like my team, but we're not as good as Penn State right now."