For the first time this season, the Penn State wrestling team faced a true threat to its 54-dual win streak on Friday night.
The Nittany Lions welcomed undefeated Michigan to Happy Valley hot off the backs of the Wolverines’ big win over Ohio State. The two teams ditched Rec Hall in favor of the more spacious Bryce Jordan Center in what has become an annual tradition for Cael Sanderson’s squad.
Penn State got off to a slow start but, thanks largely to its four national champions, came from behind and pulled out a 25-11 victory.
The dual started at 125 where a scrappy Devin Schnupp fought hard but fell to No. 14 Drew Mattin 6-0.
Up at 133, it was walk-on Scott Stossel who made his Penn State debut in place of an injured Roman Bravo-Young. Stossel, a North Allegheny (PA) grad drew the tough task of wrestling No. 1 and defending NCAA finalist Stevan Micic.
Despite getting in deep on a shot early in the match, the Penn State senior could not convert and eventually Micic came to life, picking up a 20-5 tech fall victory at the seven-minute mark.
“He said that was one of the bigger, or the biggest adrenaline rush he’s ever had in his life,” Sanderson said of Stossel getting the nod in front of the sold out BJC crowd.
Michigan led 8-0 when No. 6 Nick Lee took the mat in a pivotal matchup against seventh-ranked Kanen Storr.
Lee picked up a fair of first-period takedowns and never looked back, rolling to a 10-4 decision victory that could prove large in Big Ten Tournament seeding come march.
It was Jarod Verkleeren, not Brady Berge again at 149 for the Nittany Lions.
He took on unranked Malik Amine in back and forth affair. Amine got out to an early lead, but a Verkleeren reversal and rideout made it 2-2 after the first period.
Verkleeren led 5-3 after the second period after an escape and a slick super duck, but it was Amine who got the better of the third period and took a 7-5 victory.
“At this point Berge has earned that position,” Sanderson said of the 149 starting spot. “The plan was to wrestle Berge and it just didn’t end up working out that way today. Verkleeren actually wasn’t expecting to wrestle and we got a call earlier today and he got his weight down. Berge’s fine, everything’s good.
“But yeah, Verkleeren wasn’t expecting to wrestle today and he was heavy. I think that’s kind of one of the reasons he didn’t finish that match as strongly.”
We had a blockbuster matchup up at 157 at top-ranked Jason Nolf took on No. 5 Alec Pantaleo in a rematch of a contest that Nolf took 6-4 in Ann Arbor a year ago.
This time around, Nolf left nothing to chance. He secured an early takedown and a full set of back points using a Retherfordian bow and arrow to lead 6-0 after the first period.
With Nolf up 7-0 in the third, Pantaleo was able to pick up a takedown of his own to limit the damage, but Nolf closed it out with an 8-2 victory to cut the team score to 11-6 at the intermission.
Following the break we got round four of Vincenzo Joseph-Logan Massa, with Joseph yet again getting the better of the Michigan All-American.
The two both struggled from neutral in regulation as each scored only on escapes and a pair of hands to face calls to make it 2-2 heading into sudden victory.
We appeared headed for tiebreakers when Joseph converted a drag go behind for the takedown and the win. He finished the shot with just one second left on the clock, closing the team score to 11-9.
Up at 174 we saw another match with familiar foes as Mark Hall met Myles Amine. Hall and Amine, both two-time All-Americans, have met twice with the Penn State wrestler getting the better of Wolverine both times.
This time would be no different.
Despite a number of flurries, the two found themselves deadlocked 1-1 late in the third period. Hall, as he’s done time and again, delivered when it mattered most.
With 30 seconds to go in the match, he snapped Amine down and spun behind for takedown and then finished it off from there, taking the match 3-2 and giving Penn State its first team lead at 12-11.
Shakur Rasheed, making his returning from injury with a fancy new brace on his right leg, widened that lead with a 5-3 win over the similarly returning Jelani Embree.
Rasheed looked quick early in the match, but faded late and held on for the tenuous decision win.
With his team leading 15-11 and the possibility of the closing out the dual on the line, Bo Nickal did what Bo Nickal does at 197.
The senior built a 13-4 lead over unranked Jackson Striggow and then finished off his match in style, cradling Striggow for the fall at the 5:50 mark to give the Nittany Lions a 21-11 team lead and lock up the dual win.
Anthony Cassar finished the dual out in style, both literally and metaphorically.
Quite frankly I don't know what that is pic.twitter.com/94MsuLlPdb— Ian (@Jagger712) February 2, 2019
Sporting something called a flash tattoo of gold chains around his neck, Cassar manhandled talented Michigan freshman Mason Parris to grab a 19-8 major decision win and make the final score 25-11 in favor of the Nittany Lions.
“My little sister was doing ‘em,” Cassar said of the temporary tattoos. “I thought they looked cool so I just put one on.
“Nah, they like it,” he went on to say when asked if his teammates had given him any grief offer the new look.
Penn State returns to action a week from Friday when it heads to Columbus to take on defending NCAA runner-up Ohio State.