Matt Brown finished his career this weekend in St. Louis as a National Champion, a 3x All-American and a 2x National Finalist. The senior co-captain led Penn State's 5 All-Americans to a 6th-place finish, and continued the nation's longest active streak of consecutive years with an individual champion at 5. He can now add his name to this list of PSU wrestling greats:
In the 75 years between Howard Johnston's title and coach Cael Sanderson's arrival, Penn State crowned 18 National Champions who earned 21 titles. That's an average of one national title every 3.5 years. Since Sanderson arrived in 2009, Penn State has earned 9 national titles (by 5 wrestlers) in 6 years for an average of 1.5 national titles a year.
Brown had a very nice tournament that included wins over four seeded wrestlers and two Major Decisions. He enacted revenge on one of the two wrestlers who blemished his record this year, Virginia Tech's 7-seed Zach Epperly (who finished 7th), but was denied an opportunity at the other when Pitt's 8-seed Matt Wilps knocked off #1 Robert Kokesh in the semifinals. That of course became a secondary afterthought before Saturday night's finals and Brown entered the arena exhibiting a Sanderson-esque relaxed focus, which would prove helpful in the late stages of the match.
Wilps effectively blocked all of Brown's offensive attacks in the first period, chose bottom to start the second, escaped and began blocking again. This earned him his first stall warning, the 15th stall call Penn State offensiveness provoked in its opponents across the three-day tourney, and set the stage for a wild third period. Brown immediately escaped from bottom and got a quick takedown to lead 3-1. Then, like many talented wrestlers who have adopted a similar eyesore of a strategy, Wilps became inspired by short time and a deficit and he escaped himself and earned a nice takedown that caught Brown off-balance.
Leading 4-3 with about 20 seconds left, Wilps reverted to course and dropped to Brown's ankles from top and forced him out of bounds, earning another well-deserved stall call and conceding a penalty point to Brown to tie the bout. Then with 5 seconds left, he added insult to his own injury by failing to release his locked hands when Brown, with his veteran savvy, brought his own knee back to the mat after first attempting to escape by standing (while it is within the rules to lock hands around a waist when the bottom wrestler is on his feet, it's a violation to do so when his body is on the mat). Hindsight being 20/20, Wilps would have been better off releasing Brown, conceding the one-point escape, and taking his chances in overtime.
As it was, Brown recognized the mistake immediately and even gestured to the ref by pointing at the infraction during live wrestling time. Time expired with the score tied 4-4. When the referees reviewed the video following Cael's waving of the green challenge flag, the penalty point was awarded and Brown was the National Champion.
In the interview room afterward, he was asked to begin with an opening statement and, addressing the ugliness of the victory, said: "When you're a little kid, you dream of hitting that grand slam in the ninth inning, but sometimes it's a bunt.
"Still gets the job done."
Brown is almost 25 years old, nearly a 4.0 student (Cael likes to remind him that he once got an A-), is married and in the Army ROTC program. He handled all the interview questions about the penalty-pocked bout with a calm confidence. He made a vague reference to the controversial performance by Oklahoma State's famous staller Chris Perry in their finals match together two years ago and added: "I didn't expect the match to end like that. But that's how the ball bounces and it landed my way this time."
This was my first time in a post-match interview room and I thought he looked relaxed too:
That table curtain, though, obscured two of Brown's most feared weapons. But, thanks to my kids asking me for a specific picture, I was able to grab this exclusive shot of the real source of Brown's power and the root of his BSD nickname:
Hulk Hands will definitely be missed at my house next year.
While the team's 6th-place finish was not what anybody on the team had hoped for, Brown certainly did his part--at this year's tourney, as well as in the 2014 and 2013 team championships. He averaged almost 18 team points per tourney and nearly 20% of Penn State's team totals in his three years as a starter.
In 2012, Matt Brown returned from a two-year Mormon mission in Angola, and by all reports he showed up in incredible shape. Unfortunately for Brown, Penn State had not yet adjusted its lineup and he lost a year of starter competition sitting behind 3x National Champion Ed Ruth, who was then still wrestling 174. Here's Assistant Head Coach Casey Cunningham Saturday night describing Brown's fitness and relative national ability had he been a starter that year:
Brown finishes his distinguished wrestling career with 113 wins against 16 losses and his name can now be found all over Penn State's record books. To wit:
- 16th in Career Wins
- 18th in Career Winning Percentage at 87.6%
- 12th in Career Falls, with 30
- 10th in Career Technical Falls, with 11
- 4th on PSU's career Major Decisions list, with 33
Matt Brown has solidified his place in Penn State wrestling history and will be remembered for his leadership and contributions across a magnificent career. Best of luck to you, Matt and thanks for all the great memories!
Author note: more posts are forthcoming this week as I organize my notes and pictures and videos. Up tomorrow: an analysis of the performances of the rest of Penn State's wrestlers and after that a deeper dive into the team race