More than a decade before Penn State joined the Big Ten conference, PSU and Iowa have made it an annual tradition to meet on the resilite. These two squads have won 7 of the last 8 national championships. They're currently ranked 1 and 2 in the country. They pack the arena no matter where they go. And when these two meet, it's a mark-your-calendar viewing spectacle.
For these reasons - and plenty more - this is the dual that the wrestlers want most, and our two fan bases want to see above all others this year. Yet, according to the geniuses at Big Ten HQ in Chicago, they won't wrestle a dual for the first time in 34 years.
That's right, friends. Instead, Penn State is scheduled to host the second-worst team in the conference - and one of the worst squads in recent conference history - Michigan State, this weekend. Iowa will be traveling to NAIA school Montana State-Northern. Sparty and Montana State will both be slaughtered, in the public domain.
Instead of these two public executions, though, Black Shoe Diaries (that's us) and Black Heart Gold Pants (that's Iowa) crafted a mutually beneficial alternate universe. In this fantasy world, retiring Michigan State head coach Tom Minkel took his Spartans to Montana State. And the suddenly-free Tom Brands and the Hawks re-routed to Happy Valley. The wrestling world - and TV execs - applauded. There was much rejoicing. Social media exploded from the surprise turn of events. And here is how BSD saw the much anticipated Penn State - Iowa dual play out. (UPDATE: Read RossWB's take at BHGP here).
Begin Alternate Universe
Bryce Jordan Center is packed with 16,000 screaming fans, all dressed in white. It's deafening. Children and people under the age of 30 are given complimentary white foam ear plugs to protect their hearing.
The lights get cut save for the giant flood light in the middle of the arena, illuminating the raised platform. Jeff "Ironhead" Byers' gravelly voice blasts through the PA system as he announces a unique format for this dual - a random order. Not a "random draw", friends - a random order. Let's get to the action.
157: #1 Jason Nolf TECH FALL (27-11) #16 Edwin Cooper
Cooper is no slouch. He has a gas tank, and can do some things on his feet (when so inclined). But Jason Nolf is 23-0 in his freshman campaign, with 21 bonus point wins (11 falls, 7 tech, 3 majors). He's a merciless killing machine that wrestles without conscience for basic human dignity. Cooper puts up a fight - he is a Hawkeye, after all - and doesn't surrender the fall. But Nolf - for whom everything is a scoring opportunity - simply brings too much offense to bear. The BJC's decibels climb past the "you're standing 10 feet behind a jet engine at full throttle" level.
Team Score: Penn State 5, Iowa 0
133: #3 Cory Clark DEC (8-3) #5 Jordan Conaway
Cory Clark is a (closet) favorite of mine, for his world-class mental toughness - so the raucous BJC crowd won't phase him a bit. The kid just won't concede a single point or position, ever. In fact, that's probably Jordan Conaway's best shot at pulling the upset here - Clark fights off a bad position for too long, and gives up near-fall when he could have just conceded the takedown 30 seconds ago. But that's not a great chance. Conaway is better at 133 than 125 (where he was an All-American last year), but Clark is a step ahead, and gets the decision. The crowd settles down a bit.
Team Score: Penn State 5, Iowa 3
141: Brody Grothus DEC (7-5) #13 Jimmy Gulibon
And then the crowd goes deathly quiet.
Just when you least expect it, you get upset. Grothus is - well, he's weird. He does upper body stuff as a lightweight. He twists and turns and rolls around in scrambles all day long. He hits some 6-point move when it looked like he was half an inch from pinning himself. He loses to Wisconsin's redshirting freshman, and then pulls an upset out of you know where. This is who Brody Grothus is, and he comes up with a huge upset victory for the Hawks.
Team Score: Iowa 6, Penn State 5
285: #7 Sam Stoll MAJ (13-3) Jan Johnson
Jan Johnson was a walk-on linebacker that Cael pulled into the wrestling room because PSU's recruited heavyweight, Nick Nevills, tore his pectoral in November. He'll be headed back to the football team in April. Jan Johnson, by the way, is also a 2x PA State Champ, and a PSU wrestling legacy (pops wrestled in the blue-and-white many moons ago). So he's familiar with Resilite. However, he was a 2x state champ at 195lbs - about 80lbs south of Stoll - and he's still a true frosh who spent July thru November playing football.
Here is what kills me about Cael in dual meets: he's not going to coach Johnson to run away for seven minutes in an attempt to keep this to a decision. Nope. Instead, he'll tell Johnson "go win". Wrestle aggressively, take chances, try to win the match by scoring points offensively. Stoll is almost exclusively a counter-offense wrestler at this point in his young career. "Dual strategy" does not exist in the mind of Cael Sanderson, and it's precisely at times like this that it drives me nuts.
Team Score: Iowa 10, Penn State 5
165: #15 Shakur Rasheed DEC (7-5) Patrick Rhoads
Rasheed is fearless, so watching his teammates go down in front of him has zero effect. And he's crazy aggressive, so points will be scored in this match. He's also a little "loose" - that is, cheering for him is generally very rewarding, but it's not for the faint of heart. Points will be scored, but they may not always be for him. He's still very raw in the technique area. But mentally and physically? Rasheed has "it", and gets the decision.
Team Score: Iowa 10, Penn State 8
197: #1 Morgan McIntosh DEC (3-1) #3 Nathan Burak
Burak hasn't scored a takedown on McIntosh in three years of trying. Make that four years. Morg puts Penn State back into the lead.
Team Score: Penn State 11, Iowa 10
And now the fun starts. Four matches remain, and they're all gonna be close and exciting ones.
184: #8 Sammy Brooks DEC (8-5) #13 Matt McCutcheon
These two split their matchups last year, with Brooks winning the dual meet, and McCutcheon getting payback at Big Tens. McCutcheon, by the way, is a totally different wrestler this year. He's been an animal, wrestling aggressively, and scoring a ton of takedowns, with 7 bonus wins in 10 matches. But he's also injured, nursing a torn up knee and a bad back). Fully healthy, I'd be tempted to take him here in an upset for two reasons: 1) his marked improvement; and 2) Sammy's inconsistency. But, he's not fully healthy, and Brooks is the slight favorite anyhow. Iowa reclaims the lead.
Team Score: Iowa 13, Penn State 11
125: #2 Thomas Gilman DEC (2-1 TB-1) #4 Nico Megaludis
Throw on the February 2013 dual, where Nico and Matt McDonough battle it out. We got a repeat of that one here. Nico was in deep on a couple of different shots, but came up just short of converting the takedown. Regulation ended tied 1-1. There was another near miss on a takedown in overtime. We headed to rideouts, and Gilman took the W.
My personal loathing of Gilman reaches new, never before seen heights. The BJC crowd is unsettled.
Team Score: Iowa 16, Penn State 11
174: #1 Bo Nickal DEC (16-12) #12 Alex Meyer
Enter another super-frosh. Like Nolf, Nickal's been a bonus point machine this year (16 of 22 wins). And that's in spite of wrestling most of the current top-10 ranked dudes (#'s 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, and 9). Other than a 6-point mistake he made against Indiana's Nate Jackson that cost him (lost, 6-7), Bo's been nails. Meyer starts slowly - and that's bad news. Bo jumps out to an early lead before Meyer comes alive. This turns into a wild one, but Nickal keeps Penn State alive.
Team Score: Iowa 16, Penn State 14
As Bo trots off the stage, Johnny Cash starts a-playin' over the PA system. The overflow crowd is going bonkers, louder than ever, eager for a "hillbilly half" nelson and body scissors. White pom-poms create a stunning visual effect. Your skin tingles, and you're ready to run through a brick wall.
Two bulls take the mat.
Winner takes all.
149: #1 Zain Retherford vs. #2 Brandon Sorensen
Zap - End Alternate Universe
(Apologies to Jimmy, Nico, Mouse, Jordan, and Jan.)