Counting Down Penn State Wrestling’s Best Wins Over Ohio State
Few teams have been able to match up with Penn State wrestling during Cael Sanderson’s current decade-long dynasty, and none have done so more than Ohio State. The Buckeyes haven’t just matched up well with the Nittany Lions. They’ve put them on the ropes multiple times, winning three conference titles and a national championship in the process.
The annual meetings between the two teams and their inevitable NCAA Finals matchups have made for some great wrestling and given fans plenty of memorable moments. When Penn State and Ohio State meet on Friday night in a dual that features four top 10 matchups, the history books will likely welcome a few more bouts.
Here are five of the best we’ve already seen.
5. 1993 National Dual Meet Championship: Greg Troxell vs. Ray Mendoza
Way back when the National Dual Meet Championship was still a thing and heavyweight was capped at 275 lbs., Penn State needed to win four duals in two days to clinch the tournament’s title in 1993. One of the wins en route to the championship came down to overtime of the final bout and included one of the original iconic Penn State wins against Ohio State.
Greg Troxell, a converted football player, wrestled Ray Mendoza of Ohio State in the heavyweight match. The two were tied 4-4 after regulation and remained tied after one overtime period.
At the time, a coin flip could effectively determine the winner of a bout once it reached a second overtime. Mendoza won the toss and chose down, needing only an escape to win. Conversely, Troxell needed to ride him out for 30 seconds to win. Mendoza nearly escaped three times in the period. Somehow, Troxell managed to break him down all three times to clinch the win for Penn State, which went on to win its next two duals.
Troxell didn’t do much in his Penn State wrestling career, going 24-15 in two seasons and never placing at NCAAs. However, at the Dual Meet Championship, Troxell won three must-win bouts and went 4-0 overall during the team tournament to will the Nittany Lions to a somewhat worthless team title.
4. 2013 Dual: Zain Retherford vs. Logan Stieber
Zain Retherford made his mark on college wrestling one month into his true freshman season while facing Ohio State legend Logan Stieber, then the No. 1 wrestler at 141 lbs. Retherford entered the teams’ dual in 2013 with a 10-0 record, but he hadn’t faced a ranked opponent. He left Rec Hall with a sudden victory upset win and an exceptional amount of street cred.
Stieber took Retherford down early in the first period but struggled to pull away. Retherford rode him out in the second period to pick up a riding time point that tied the match 2-2 at the end of regulation. In sudden victory, Retherford scored a crafty single-leg takedown to hand Stieber only the third loss of his career. Retherford’s win helped Penn State to a 31-6 win over the Buckeyes.
Practically no one expected Retherford to beat Stieber — other than Retherford himself. He famously said after the match that he had a dream about beating Stieber, an eventual four-time national champion, the night before the dual.
Retherford ended up losing to Stieber in both the Big Ten Championships and NCAA Championships, but his win in front of a sold-out Rec Hall crowd set the tone for a decorated Penn State wrestling career that went on to include 126 wins, 53 falls, and three NCAA titles.
3. 2018 Dual: Anthony Cassar vs. Kollin Moore
Last season, Ohio State and Penn State met in what was deemed the “Dual of the Century.” After the Buckeyes jumped out to a 15-5 lead, Penn State rattled off four consecutive wins. Victories by Vincenzo Joseph, Mark Hall, and Bo Nickal helped the Nittany Lions climb out of the early hole and take the lead before Anthony Cassar sent Rec Hall into a frenzy when he knocked off top-ranked Kollin Moore in the 197-pound bout.
For most of the season, Cassar had been splitting time with Shakur Rasheed at 197 lbs. Both made convincing cases to be the starter while wrestling in every other dual. Cassar got the nod against Ohio State and turned in perhaps the most memorable bout in Rec Hall history.
The bout was tied 2-2 after two periods before Cassar escaped to take the lead and added a takedown to stretch his advantage to 5-2. Cassar tacked on a riding time point to make the final score 6-2 in what was Moore’s first loss of the season. Penn State led Ohio State 19-15 following Cassar’s win and held on for a 19-18 win after Nick Nevills kept Olympic champion Kyle Snyder to a decision in the final bout.
Rasheed went on to get the nod at 197 lbs. during the postseason, but Cassar’s hard-nosed win that made Rec Hall erupt proved to be a crucial moment in the Nittany Lions’ current 55-dual winning streak.
2. 2017 NCAA Finals: Mark Hall vs. Bo Jordan
Mark Hall and Ohio State’s Bo Jordan gave wrestling fans a Big Ten final to remember in 2017 when Jordan beat Hall in sudden victory to guide the Buckeyes to a conference title. Two weeks later, the two met in the NCAA Finals, where Hall redeemed himself.
Hall led Jordan 1-0 entering a controversial sequence that helped decide the bout. Jordan appeared to take Hall down before Hall reversed him in a wild scramble. An official review at the request of Ohio State coach Tom Ryan resulted in Jordan not being awarded a takedown. Instead, Hall earned two points for his own takedown, which gave him a 3-0 lead.
Jordan trimmed the deficit to 3-2 before Hall scored a takedown at the buzzer to the make the final score 5-2. He capped off the win with a badass flex and staredown over Jordan. Hall’s win in the finals made him the program’s first true freshman to win a national title and was one of five consecutive wins by Nittany Lions in the 2017 finals.
1. 2018 NCAA Finals: Bo Nickal vs. Myles Martin
This is not just Penn State’s greatest win against Ohio State. It’s the greatest win in program history, period. Bo Nickal went from his back and the brink of losing the team title to pinning his arch rival and securing the team title…all in a span of less than two seconds.
Nickal faced Ohio State’s Myles Martin nine times before moving up to 197 lbs. this season. Nickal had the upper hand in the rivalry, going 7-2 against Martin. However, there was something about Martin that Nickal struggled with. Martin claims two of Nickal’s three career losses, including an upset in the 2016 NCAA Finals.
In their final meeting and a rematch of the 2016 Finals, Nickal pulled out what will go down in every wrestling historian’s books as one of the greatest moments in the sport’s history.
Late in the first period, Martin muscled Nickal to the mat with a single-leg takedown and put him on his back for a blink of an eye. In that blink of an eye, which seemed long enough to make Penn State fans take one collective gasp, Nickal did a move he claims he’s been doing since he was six and somehow rolled over Martin in one motion to pin him.
Nearly a year later, I still can’t even comprehend how it was even possible.
Perhaps even more memorably, Nickal gave one of the most iconic celebrations and interviews of all-time after the bout…even if it cost Penn State a one-point deduction.
Honorable mention that didn’t make the cut because he didn’t actually win: Carson Kuhn taking down Nathan Tomasello three times in the first period and throwing him into the BlaiseAlexander.com sign on the scorer’s table
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About the Author
Ryan Field was a sea of white in the Nittany Lions’ week five return to Illinois on Saturday.
Despite struggles with bye weeks in recent years, the Nittany Lions feel the time off this year can be beneficial.
Our writers and photographers drove out to Evanston, Illinois, to capture the sights and sounds of Penn State’s fifth win of the season.