After an early scare where an aggressive and spirited No. 21 Rutgers (7-2) quickly grabbed a 6-4 lead on Friday night, No. 2 Penn State (7-0) won the dual’s last seven matches and picked up its third conference win of the season by beating the Scarlet Knights 37-6. 33 days removed from its last home meet, Rec Hall hosted an emotional evening where former Nittany Lions wrestler James Vollrath, who passed away this past December, was honored with a moment of silence and video montage. Penn State won eight of the ten bouts and scored bonus points in six of them.
How It Happened
The dual began at 125 with a meeting between two true freshmen from New Jersey whose respective college careers are both off to fast starts. No. 3 Nick Suriano (11-0) gave the Nittany Lions an early 4-0 lead by majoring Brandon Paetzell (10-4) 16-2. Despite Suriano controlling the mat for all seven minutes, Paetzell avoided being pinned or losing via tech fall and consequently giving up more than one bonus point by wrestling conservatively for the entirety of the match.
Rutgers countered Suriano’s convincing win by taking the next two bouts to open up a 6-4.
In the only matchup of the night not featuring a ranked wrestler, Rutgers junior Scott DelVecchio (14-6) routed George Carpenter (1-7) 11-4. He made his third straight start filling in for an injured No. 13 Jered Cortez. and is now 1-3 while filling in for the ranked wrestler.
No. 6 Anthony Ashnault (16-3) of Rutgers gave the Scarlet Knights their first lead of the dual by beating No. 12 Jimmy Gulibon (7-6) 4-1 in a rematch of 2016’s Big Ten 133 lb. Championships Finals. Two clutch first period takedowns by Ashnault — one being just before the two rolled out of bounds and the other being late in the period also near the boundary — made the difference in the match. He opened a 4-1 that he would retain for the rest of the match. Trailing 4-1 after the first period, Gulibon rode Ashnualt out for the entirety of the second period and had two near takedowns in the third period but came up empty handed on both attempts as Penn State fell behind 6-4.
Friday was the second straight dual that the Nittany Lions had trailed after the first three matches because of the uncertainty at this part of the lineup. However, once again, No.1 Zain Retherford (12-0) and No. 1 Jason Nolf (12-0), at 149 lbs. and 157 lbs. respectively, responded, just as they did against Lehigh and Nebraska.
After jumping out to a 13-3 lead and toying with No. 14 Ken Theobold for the first five minutes of the match, Retherford picked up his team-high 10th pin during the third period to retake the lead for Penn State. Nolf promptly followed suit by posting 15 points in the first period against No. 16 John Van Brill and nearly pinning him twice. One escape, one takedown, and four back points helped Nolf record the 22-4 tech fall at the 4:09 mark — giving Penn State a 15-6 advantage at the break.
After the break, No. 4 Vincenzo Joseph (10-1) kept the trend of bonus points going by tech falling Willie Scott (12-7) 19-3 in the second period of the 165 lb. bout.
At 174 lbs., No. 14 Geno Morelli (10-1) and Rutgers’ Phillip Backuckas (10-5) were tied 3-3 in the third period when Scarlet Knights head coach Scott Goodale challenged Morelli’s riding time point advantage. About a second separated the match clock and the riding time point (which would have broken the tie) expiring, but the original call on the mat stood. After the attempted challenge, Backuckas nearly put Morelli on his back and scored decisive back points but Morelli managed to escape and win the match by a 5-3 decision. After the match, Goodale used another challenge, this time questioning if Backuckas had picked up back points. After the review, the original call once again stood and Penn State extended its lead to 23-6.
In a physical match that saw both wrestlers swinging at each other’s head and that broke No. 14 Nicholas Gravina (12-4) of Rutgers’ head gear, No. 2 Bo Nickal (11-0) tacked on another six points to the Nittany Lions’ team total with his ninth fall of the season. Nickal scored the bout’s first points by taking down Gravina at the buzzer of the first period and then stayed hot through the second period, exploding up to flip Gravina for the reversal and then pinning him. Nickal has patented that move, which he and Retherford have dubbed collaboratively, “The Secret Move.” Although, after Friday night, it isn’t much of a secret anymore.
At 197 lbs., No. 11 Matt McCutcheon (9-2) grinded out a 4-3 decision over Matt Correnti (9-7). In the final bout of the dual, No. 5 Nick Nevills (11-0) topped Ralph Normandia (1-1) 24-9 for a technical fall, giving the Nittany Lions a 37-6 dual win.
Wrestler of the Match
Zain Retherford |149 lbs. | Redshirt Junior
With Penn State trailing early, Retherford, perhaps the most experienced and well-traveled wrestler on this year’s team, turned the dual around and set the tone for the rest of the night as the Nittany Lions scored bonus points on four of the next six matches — all of which they won.
The Nittany Lions will look to win their 24th consecutive dual meet win on Friday, January 20 when they return to action in a visit to Iowa City to take on the Iowa Hawkeyes.