A slow start from No. 1 Penn State (14-0) could not prevent the Nittany Lions from beating No. 2 Oklahoma State (14-1) for their second-straight NWCA Dual Championship title. After losing the first three bouts and falling behind 13-0, Penn State responded with seven-straight wins for a 27-13 victory on the road at the Cowboys’ Gallagher Iba Arena in what may have been the most telling showing from a team that had previously cruised through the dual season.
How It Happened
The dual could not have gotten off to a worse start for Penn State. No. 2 Nick Suriano, who has consistently set the tone for the Nittany Lions early this season, took an early 3-2 lead over No. 11 Nick Piccininni before he went down with an ankle injury in the second period. After the injury timeout, Suriano resumed wrestling but was was in too much pain to finish the period, giving Piccininni an injury default win, which put the Cowboys up 6-0.
While surrendering six bonus points in a bout that Suriano was favored in, what makes the outcome especially bad for the Nittany Lions is the uncertainty about Suriano’s health moving into the Big Ten and NCAA Championships, where he was a strong candidate to win at 125 lbs. The Nittany Lions may have lost the next two bouts, which the Cowboys were favorites in, but George Carpenter and No. 10 Jimmy Gulibon managed to minimize damage and prevent the dual from getting out of hand.
A 17-6 major decision from No. 3 Kaid Brock over Carpenter extended Oklahoma State’s team lead to 10-0. Although Carpenter’s loss put the Cowboys up 10-0, a critical counter-takedown in the third period prevented Brock from picking up a technical fall to keep Penn State in striking distance.
At 141 lbs, Gulibon, one of the hottest wrestlers in the country coming into Sunday, met No. 1 Dean Heil. At the end of the second period, Gulibon and Heil were tied 2-2 when Gulibon nearly took down and pinned Heil but couldn’t score any points because of a questionable no-call and expiring clock. After Gulibon allowed Heil up which made it 3-2, at the end of the third period, Gulibon once again came just as close to putting away the best top 141-pounder in the country but another no-call in favor of Heil put the Cowboys up 13-0.
Heil’s only takedown in that bout was Oklahoma State’s last one until the heavyweight match.
Out of all the highly anticipated top-ten matchups on Sunday, the bout at 149 lbs. was the only one between No. 1 and No. 2 wrestlers and the 13-0 deficit made No. 1 Zain Retherford’s clash with No. 2 Anthony Collica all the more critical.
After two periods, Collica led Retherford 1-0 after two stall calls against the Nittany Lion. To start the third period, Retherford, who had more than two minutes of riding time despite never recording a takedown, escaped to tie the bout. That escape ended up being enough for Retherford as the riding time point pushed him ahead to 2-1 to put Penn State on the board, as it was just entering the heart of its lineup.
Before the break, No. 1 Jason Nolf finally gave the Nittany Lions a characteristic bout. Nolf made a statement with an all-out dominating 24-9 technical fall win over No. 6 Joe Smith, which made the team score 13-8 halfway through.
Even after the intermission, No. 4 Vincenzo Joseph extended the Nittany Lions’ momentum by beating No. 8 Chandler Rogers 12-4 for a major decision and the team’s third-straight win, which cut the deficit to 13-12.
At 174 lbs, No. 7 Mark Hall took a 1-0 lead into the third period over No. 9 Kyle Crutchmer, who immediately escaped to open the final two minutes of the bout and tie the score 1-1. Crutchmer nearly took down Hall but a counter from Hall put him up 3-1 with under 30 seconds to wrestle. After allowing Crutchmer to escape to prevent a tying reversal, Hall gave the Nittany Lions their first lead of the afternoon and their fourth-straight win.
No. 2 Bo Nickal followed at 184 lbs with the most Bo Nickal way to show up to a close championship dual — picking up a first period over No. 4 Nolan Boyd. This season, Nickal has now beaten two of the top four wrestlers in his weight class via a fall.
With the Nittany Lions now leading 21-13, after coming all the way back, the last hope for the Cowboys was No. 8 Preston Weigel against No. 9 Matt McCutcheon.
After going down 1-0, McCutcheon scored a takedown to take a 2-1 lead in the third period, but not before Weigel tied it 2-2 with an escape. McCutcheon however picked up another takedown to go up 4-2. An escape and late takedown effort from Weigel nearly kept the Cowboys in the dual, but McCutcheon was able to hold on for the championship-clinching 4-3 win.
To end the dual and the NWCA Dual Championship Title locked up, No. 3 Nick Nevills beat Derek White with a 10-5 decision to finish off the 27-13 title victory.
Wrestler of the Dual
Matt McCutcheon | Junior | 197 lbs
Although he didn’t have the flashiest match of the afternoon, McCutcheon, one of the oldest wrestlers on this Penn State team, was able to grind out a toughly fought 4-3 win against a pretty evenly matched opponent to clinch the title for the Nittany Lions.
Penn State will get a two-week break before the Big Ten Championships at Indiana University on March 4 and 5.