IOWA CITY, Ia. — It seemed more like genuine admiration than gamesmanship earlier this week when Iowa coach Tom Brands acknowledged Penn State’s power.
The Nittany Lions have college wrestling’s best top-end talent with two NCAA champions and four returning national finalists, but they also have bushels of depth. And Brands wasn’t pumping up the opposition to set up an ambush when he said the Hawkeyes needed to be ready or they’d get blown out at home.
The top-ranked team in the country handed No. 3 Iowa its first double-digit home defeat in almost seven years, winning seven matches and handing the Hawkeyes a 24-12 defeat in front of 13,747 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“We got blown off our home mat,” Brands said.
Penn State scored 18 of the dual’s 28 takedowns, including all 15 after intermission, and picked up major decisions along the way from NCAA champions David Taylor and Ed Ruth and another from Morgan McIntosh to hand Iowa its first December loss in 25 duals under Brands.
“We’re pretty solid once you go up,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “We’re pretty good on the bottom, too, but so is Iowa.”
Nearly 11 months ago, the Hawkeyes handed Penn State a 22-16 defeat, the only loss of its run to a third straight NCAA title. They did it by racing to a 16-3 start before intermission and picking up a fall from Tony Ramos at 133 in an epic Carver-Hawkeye Arena moment that was plastered on billboards and screensavers around the state.
Ramos produced nearly an exact replica Saturday night when the top-ranked senior whipped freshman Jimmy Gulibon to his back for a fall before turning and flexing to a crowd that included actor Ashton Kutcher and girlfriend Mila Kunis.
“It’s exciting because you know you did your job,” Ramos said. “They can work to defend something as much as they want, but if you overpower them and put your will on them, you’ll get what you (want).”
But it was nearly all Penn State from that point forward. The Nittany Lions showed two hallmarks of a championship program, tipping the dual in its favor with a game-changing freshman and a win from a reserve.
Fresh off his victory Sunday against two-time NCAA champ Logan Stieber of Ohio State, true freshman Zain Retherford scored a third-period takedown and rode Josh Dziewa the rest of the way for a 4-2 win at 141 pounds.
“When you’ve got a team’s big gun and he comes out and gets a pin, that’s a big deal in this kind of dual meet,” Taylor said. “Those kind of bonus points are hard to make up. (But) the maturity level of Zain Retherford, I can’t even describe it. Sometimes you see a deer-in-the-headlights look, but Zain’s got this excitement. He’s ready to go and he’s a ball of fire.”
Another freshman, Zack Beitz, filling in at 149 for starter Andrew Alton, took Michael Kelly to his back for a five-point move in the closing minute to win a 6-1 decision.
“That experience is great for these guys,” Sanderson said. “It’s all practice right now, obviously. It’s already history, but they did a great job.”
The Hawkeyes juggled their lineup at the start, sending freshman Thomas Gilman to the mat at 125 in place of fifth-ranked classmate Cory Clark. Gilman dropped a 4-1 decision against two-time NCAA finalist Nico Megaludis.
“Two competitive guys there and guys who are capable,” Brands said. “Cory Clark is adjusting to the one-hour weigh-in and we’ll keep things moving forward there.”
Iowa picked up its only other victories from NCAA champ Derek St. John at 157 and third-ranked heavyweight Bobby Telford, who used a late reversal to win a 3-2 decision against Jimmy Lawson.
“We can make a lot of progress, and that’s kind of our plan to get better each match,” Sanderson said. “You really get exposed when you come to Carver-Hawkeye. The Brands are very good at figuring out how to beat guys and they’re very tactical. It gives you a good idea of what to work on and it’s good we’re still early in the season.”
PENN STATE 24, IOWA 12
125 pounds—Megaludis (PS) dec. Gilman, 4-1; 133—Ramos (I) pinned Gulibon, 5:22; 141—Dziewa (PS) dec. Retherford, 4-2; 149—Beitz (PS) dec. Kelly, 6-1; 157—St. John (I) dec. Vollrath, 9-4; 165—Taylor (PS) major dec. Moore, 12-3; 174—Brown dec. Evans, 4-1; 184—Ruth (PS) major dec. Lofthouse, 12-4; 197—McIntosh (PS) major dec. Brooks, 16-4; Heavyweight—Telford (I) dec. Lawson, 3-2.