UPDATE: No. 1 Penn State rallies to edge No. 5 Lehigh, 23-19, at sold-out PPL Center

By Gary Blockus, Special to TheMat.com | Dec. 03, 2017, 4:52 p.m. (ET)
Jason Nolf of Penn State takes down Ian Brown of Lehigh at 157 pounds. Photo by Justin Lafleur, Lehigh Athletics.

Penn State heavyweight Nick Nevills knew he faced a steep challenge.

Penn State (4-0) held a one-point lead on No. 5 Lehigh (4-1) heading into the final match of the afternoon in front of the biggest “home” wrestling crowd ever in Lehigh University history, threatening to end the Nittany Lions win streak at 34 straight dual meet matches..

And teammate and returning 157-pound national champion Jason Nolf had some words of wisdom for him.

“Right before I went out there, Jason Nolf came back and he … told me, ‘It’s just like any other match, except if you lose, you lose the streak and everything else.’ I said I know. It’s pretty exciting. It was exciting to be in this situation.”

Nevills, a junior ranked No. 3 in the country, scored an escape and added riding time for a 2-0 win over No. 14 Jordan Wood, clinching a 23-19 win in front of 9,896 fans at the sold-out PPL Center in Allentown.

“I’d say it was just like any other match, but it’d be a lie,” Nevills said. “I just knew it was just a win, I didn’t have to go out there and try anything crazy.”

Top-ranked Penn State won the last four bouts and six of the last seven, running its dual meet win streak to 35 in a battle of Pennsylvania wrestling powers. Even though Penn State sat defending 165-pound national champion Vincenzo Joseph – for what coach Cael Sanderson referred to as better results down the road – the murderer’s row of Penn State wrestlers – national champs from 149 through 184 – ran into some tough customers.

Returning champs Mark Hall (174) and Bo Nickal (184) were pressed to earn 3-2 decisions over No. 5 Jordan Kutler and No. 4 Ryan Preish respectively, both by 3-2 decisions.

“I think Lehigh has some good guys,” Sanderson said when asked about those matches. “I don’t think our guys were trying to be conservative. They just faced some good competition.”

Lehigh blazed out to a 15-0 lead before Penn State fired back to win six of the 10 bouts.

“I’m proud of the way our guys fought,” Lehigh head coach Pat Santoro said. “Obviously we wrestled a great team tonight … We had an opportunity slip through our hands tonight and that was tough. … When we wrestle a team like Penn State, we see how close we are, but being close – a lot of teams can come close – we’ve got to start hammering home and put the nail in the coffin, so to speak, but these guys are hungry and want to do this.”

Lehigh began the afternoon with back-to-back pins agianst the two-time defending national champion Nittany Lions, who have won six national titles in the last seven years.

Returning 125-pound NCAA champion Darian Cruz christened the first-ever NCAA wrestling match inside Allentown’s PPL Center with a first-period pin.

Cruz, ranked No. 5 in the country, made short work of Penn State freshman Devin Schnupp, cradling him for a pin in 1:13 to put the Mountain Hawks on top in the opening bout.

No. 3 Scotty Parker put Lehigh on top 12-0 with a second-period pin of Penn State sophomore Dominic Giannangeli in 3:12. Sanderson challenged the call, claiming Parker, No. 3 at 133, grabbed Giannangeli’s head gear on the head lock pancake, but video review upheld the call.

At 141, Penn State junior Jered Cortez got in on a single against freshman Luke Karam, who fought it off on a scramble at the edge as the period ended. Karam escaped to start the second period. Cortez chose defense to start the final period and Karam rode aggressively, switching from a crab ride to cross-body rides, forcing a stall working against Cortez, ending with a non-scoring half Nelson to gain riding time and a 2-0 decision, putting Lehigh on top 15-0.

Zain Retherford, ranked No. 1 and the returning NCAA champ at 149, put Penn State on the board end the Lehigh run, pinning junior Corlandt Schuyler in 1:27.

Nolf warded off a good scramble with Ian Brown to start their match, but scored a takedown on a trip to open the scoring and added three more before the first period ended for an 8-3 lead, finishing with 10 takedowns and a 23-8 technical fall without ever scoring backpoints as Penn State trailed 15-11 at intermission.

With top-ranked Joseph out at 165, Sanderson sent freshman Bo Pipher out at 165 to face 15th-ranked Lehigh junior Gordon Wolf, who scored an immediate takedown in an action-packed bout.

Pipher worked for almost 30 seconds to get a reverse, and then got warned for stalling on an ankle hang. Wolf reversed on the restart and added three more takedowns in the period. Pipher escaped in the second, got a takedown, but Wolf reversed and led 14-9 heading into the final period, where he gained an immediate reversal. Wolf added three takedowns in the third period for a 24-12 major to give Lehigh a 19-11 lead.

Hall, a six-time high school champion in Minnesota, and No. 5 Jordan Kutler went through a scoreless first period at 174. Kutler chose defense to start the second period and immediately escaped Hall charged in on a single that went funky

Hall scored on an inner thigh reach, duck under to get behind Kutler, who immediately got loose as the wrestlers headed into the final period tied 2-2 with Hall choosing defense. Hall escaped for the lead. Kutler took a good shot that had Hall at the edge of the mat with 30 seconds to go. Hall backed away from Kutler to draw a stall warning with 8 seconds left, but held on for the 3-2 decision, cutting Lehigh’s lead to 19-14.

In a battle of No. 1 against No. 4 at 184, Bo Nickal, Penn State's returning national champion, scored a takedown by literally rolling through Lehigh’s Ryan Preisch to keep the Nittany Lion momentum rolling figuratively as well.

Nickal added a second period. Preisch escaped to start the period, but didn’t come close to scoring or forcing a stalling against Nickal. The 3-2 win by Nickal cut the team lead for Lehigh to 19-17 with the Nittany Lions favored in the final two bouts.

Anthony Cassar, a sophomore ranked No. 11 at 197, kept Penn State going with an 8-3 win over unranked Jake Jakobsen. Cassar scored two first-period takedowns against the Lehigh freshman, who proved tough on top with a 2-minute ride in the second period, which only nettied him 55 seconds riding time. Jackobsen escaped to start the final period, but Cassar hit the clinching takedown with more than 40 seconds remaining. Cassar got another takedown on a desperation shot by Jakobsen to put Penn State on top of the first time all match, up 20-19.

Nevills wasn’t going to let the lead go away. He escaped in the second period for the first points in his bout with Wood, who nearly shocked Nevills with a single leg, elevating it as close as possible before Nevills got just enough out of bounds to avoid giving up the score.

Wood chose defense to start the final period and Nevills refused to let go despite a lot of twisting and standing from the Lehigh freshman. Nevills secured riding time and finished the period with a rideout to secure the Penn State win.

“I think Lehigh wrestled great,” Sanderson said. “It was a great match. It comes down to heavyweight. It was great for our team. I don’t think we’ve been in a dogfight like that for a while.”

“I’m really proud of the way our guys fought tonight,” Santoro said. “They showed up to wrestle. If you show up to wrestle, good things happen. This will sting for a little bit, but we’ll move forward."

No. 1 PENN STATE 23, No. 5 LEHIGH 19
at PPL Center, Allentown, Pa., Dec. 3

125: No. 5 Darian Cruz (Lehigh) pin Devin Schnupp (Penn State) 1:13.
133: No. 3 Scott Parker (Lehigh) pin Dominic Giannangeli (Penn State) 3:12.
141: Luke Karam (Lehigh) dec. Jered Cortez (Penn State) 2-0.
149: No. 1 Zain Retherford (Penn State) pin Cortlandt Schuyler (Lehigh) 1:27.
157: No. 1 Jason Nolf (Penn State) tech fall Ian Brown (Lehigh) 23-8, 6:40.
165: No. 15 Gordon Wolf maj. dec. Bo Pipher (Penn State) 24-12.
174: No. 2 Mark Hall (Penn State) dec. No. 5Jordan Kutler (Lehigh) 3-2.
184: No. 1 Bo Nickal (Penn State) dec. No. 4 Ryan Preisch (Lehigh) 3-2.
197: No. 11 Anthony Cassar (Penn State) dec. Jake Jakobsen (Lehigh) 8-3.
285: No. 3 Nick Nevills (Penn State) dec. No. 14 Jordan Wood 2-0.
Attendance: 9,896.
Records: Penn State 4-0, Lehigh 4-1