With just 10 matches remaining, Penn State trailed Minnesota by 2.5 team points. The Gophers had just gone 6-2 in the medal round, including a tech fall from Kevin Steinhaus in the 5th place bout, to stake their lead. No Penn Stater should have been surprised by their performance. The Gophers went 5-0 in overtime matches for the tournament, and 7 of their 9 qualified wrestlers finished at or above their seed. The Gophers, like Penn State, also had two wrestlers in the finals. Penn State had to win both of their finals matches, and hope that at least one of the Gophers would lose - no simple feat.
The first half of that strategy - winning both finals - becomes so much easier when you run Ed Ruth and David Taylor onto the mat. Ed cruised to a 7-2 win over previously unbeaten Jimmy Sheptock of Maryland, becoming Penn State's first 3-time National Champion. Taylor, who became Penn State's first 4-time finalist, used a dominating ride to win his second title over Oklahoma State's Tyler Caldwell, 6-0. The two wins gave Penn State 8 team points, and pushed them back in front of Minnesota, 109.5 to 104.
Meanwhile, the Gopher luck finally ran out. NC State's sophomore Nick Gwiazdowski upset 2-time defending champ Tony Nelson, taking him down twice in the third period to win, 4-2. And Okie State sophomore Alex Dieringer proved too much for Dylan Ness at 157lbs. Once Dieringer stayed out of Ness' elevator, he horsed the Gopher all over the mat on his way to a 13-4 major. But it was only then, after Dieringer's hand had been raised, signaling the end of the 639th match out of 640 matches, that Penn Staters could celebrate. The 5.5 point margin for Penn State was the closest finish since 2009, when Iowa edged Ohio State by just 4.5 points.
Two All-Time Greats
Saturday night was the last match in a Penn State singlet for Ed Ruth and David Taylor, and wow are we going to miss these guys. Ed finishes his career with a 136-3 record, 46 pins, 25 tech falls, and 33 majors - 104 of his 136 wins by bonus. He went 21-1 at the national tournament over 4 years, finishing 3rd, 1st, 1st, and 1st. Those 21 tournament wins is a Penn State record.
David's time in a PSU singlet ends with a 134-3 mark, 53 pins (tying the PSU record), 42 tech falls, and 30 majors - 125 of his 134 wins by bonus. He went 18-2 at the national tournament, finishing 2nd, 1st, 2nd, and 1st. David was named Outstanding Wrestler for the second time, and in a couple of days he'll probably win his second Hodge Trophy - the wrestling Heisman.
And oh by the way - neither Ed nor David ever lost to a Big Ten wrestler. Ever. Not in a dual meet, not in a winter tournament, not at the Big Ten championships, and not at NCAAs. There are literally only a handful of people walking the planet - maybe - that can make the same claim. We could watch Penn State wrestling for the next 50 years and be lucky to see one more guy come through like these two. That they were teammates for all four years....we've been incredibly fortunate. What an exciting pair to watch.
Session One Recap
Penn State started 9-1, with two majors (Gingrich and Brown), two falls (Taylor and Ruth), and one tech fall (Nico). Only unseeded Jimmy Gulibon, who had an unfortunate draw in 4-seed Jon Morrison, lost. Things looked even better for Penn State, as Minnesota's 2-seed at 149 (which was a joke, by the way) Nick Dardanes lost his opener. Though the Gophers finished 8-1, they only had two bonus point winners: Ness (by fall), and Zilverberg (by major). The Hawkeyes' tournament, more or less, was over after the first round. Iowa fell out of the gate with a 7-3 session, losing a pair of 5-seeds in Nick Moore and Ethan Lofthouse, as well as unseeded Josh Dziewa. Their only bonus points came from 8-seed Cory Clark, by tech fall.
Session Two Recap
The next round didn't go as planned. Penn State finished just 6-4 with 3 bonus point wins (Gulibon, Taylor, and Ruth). Jim English dropped a painfully close 4-3 decision to eventual champ Jason Tsirtsis. Dylan Alton and Jon Gingrich both lost decisions to higher seeded wrestlers. And our 3-seed at 197, Morgan McIntosh, was upset by 14-seed Chris Penny.
Iowa recovered, winning 9 of 10 matches, with one tech fall (Dziewa) and 3 majors (St.John, Moore, and Lofthouse). Only 13-seed Brody Grothus lost. Minnesota's tournament took a bit of a dip, with a 7-2 round that saw 6-seed Chris Dardanes bounced to the consolation bracket. Ness and Nelson both recorded falls, though, to keep the Gophers' point total high.
Session Three Recap
A third win in the championship bracket, and you've reached the semi-finals. If you've lost, you have to wrestle a crap ton of really tough bouts in the consolation bracket. Session 3 tends to separate the contenders from the pretenders. Penn State (Nico, Retherford, Taylor, Ruth) and Minnesota (Ness, Storley, Schiller, Nelson) each put four wrestlers into the semi-finals. Iowa (Ramos, Evans, Telford) got three through. Evans beat Hulk Hands in double overtime rideout to make Penn State's quest for a title that much more difficult. Meanwhile, 9-seed Dylan Ness took out the 1-seed James Green by fall, and 6-seed Logan Storley narrowly edged 3-seed Robert Kokesh in double OT.
In the consolations, Penn State lost Jimmy Gulibon and Jon Gingrich in the round of 24. Iowa lost four wrestlers in the same round: Dziewa, Grothus, Moore, and Lofthouse, leaving the Hawks with just 6 wrestlers still alive. Minnesota still had all 9 wrestlers they had brought breathing and scoring team points.
In the round of 16, Penn State lost Dylan Alton, in overtime. Nick Dardanes, after first receiving a medical forfeit victory, lost in the same round. Penn State had 4 wrestlers in the semi-finals, and 3 wrestlers (English, Brown, McIntosh) into the round of 12 - also known as "the blood round", because you're just one win away from becoming an All-American, and matches can get rough. Minnesota had 4 semifinalists, and 4 into the round of 12 (Thorn, Chris Dardanes, Zilverberg, Steinhouse). Iowa had 3 seminfinalists (Ramos, Evans, Telford), and 3 into the round of 12 (Clark, St.John, Burak).
Session Four Recap
By the end of session four, you know how many finalists your team will have, and how many All-Americans. Penn State and Minnesota would both finish with 2 finalists and 7 total All-Americans. Iowa would get just 1 finalist, but all six remaining wrestlers would make the podium.
Nico and Zpain would both lose their championship semi-finals, and bounce to the consolation semi-finals. They'd be joined by Minnesota's Storley and Schiller, as well as Iowa's Evans and Telford. Of those six, Evans was the only wrestler to get royally hosed.
In the consolations, James English, Matt Brown, and Morgan McIntosh all became All-Americans. English was one of just six unseeded wrestlers, out of 170 unseeded wrestlers, to become an All-American. English and McIntosh both lost their next matches, and would wrestle for 7th. Brown won his second match to make the consolation semi-finals.
Minnesota got 3 of their 4 wrestlers through the blood round. Only Chris Dardanes, a 2x All-American, failed to come through the wringer (majored by 1-seed Mitchell Port, 8-0). Danny Zilverberg would lose his second match, and wrestle for 7th at 165. But David Thorn and Kevin Steinhouse both won twice, making the consolation semi-finals.
Cory Clark and Derek St.John both made the consolation semi-finals, while Nathan Burak would wrestle for 7th for the Hawks. Iowa's fate was sealed in Sessions 1 and 3, but Penn State and Minnesota would be neck and neck the rest of the way.
Medal Round Recap
First the consolation semi-finals are wrestled. Then, the medals get handed out, as 3rd, 5th, and 7th place matches get fought. The medal round can be a strange dynamic. Some wrestlers remain on a mission, while others can't recover from having their dreams of a national title crushed just 12 hours earlier. Injuries mount after 50 hours of fighting, and play a role in the results as well.
Penn State had three wrestlers in the consolation semi-finals - Nico, Zain, and Hulk Hands. Only Nico advanced, beating Iowa's Clark, to wrestle for 3rd. Zain lost an overtime match with 1-seed Mitchell Port, and Hulk Hands, more painfully, lost an overtime match with Minnesota's Storley. Both Zain and Hulk fired shots from neutral in overtime, looking for the win. Both were countered, and both gave up the takedown. Neither Port nor Storley had initiated an offensive shot in the first 7 minutes; neither was called for stalling. It was a bitter pill at the time.
Nico finished 3rd, easily handling VaTech's freshman Joey Dance. Zain placed 5th after receiving a medical forfeit from Joey Lazor, whom Zain had beaten in round 2. Matt Brown got a small measure of revenge, beating Iowa's Mike Evans for 5th place, after Evans had beaten him on double OT rideout. And Morgan finished 7th, getting the winning takedown against Iowa's Burak.
Minnesota went 2-2 in the semifinals, with Storley and Schiller advancing, while Thorn and Steinhaus both lost. All four of them, plus Danny Zilverberg, would win their last matches. Storley and Schiller placed 3rd. Thorn and Steinhaus placed 5th. Zilverberg took 7th. That stretch of wrestling gave Minnesota a 2.5 point lead with 10 matches remaining. It wouldn't be enough. But it was awfully entertaining.
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