No. 1 Penn State blanks No. 10 Lehigh, 42-0, at home

By Andy Elder for USA Wrestling | Dec. 02, 2018, 6:55 p.m. (ET)

Photo: No. 5 Anthony Cassar takes on No. 6 Jordan Wood at 285 pounds. Photo by Mark Selders, PSU Athletics. 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Anthony Cassar leaned back in his chair on the raised dais of the Penn State Media Room, a white towel draped around his neck, toothpick protruding from his mouth and gold chain with a cross dangling from his neck.

The former 197-pounder turned 285-pounder for the Nittany Lions has faced questions all season whether he or incumbent starter Nick Nevills, a two-time All-American, would emerge as Penn State’s starter. So far, it’s been Cassar, who scored a dominating 7-2 win over Nevills at the Keystone Classic on Nov. 18.

Cassar said he put on nearly 40 pounds of muscle in the offseason, and it certainly looks like it. A known weightlifting aficionado, Cassar said he’s closing in on 600 pounds as his deadlift personal best. He used all of that weight training Sunday in No. 1 Penn State’s 42-0 shutout of No. 8 Lehigh in front of 6,529 fans in a sold-out Rec Hall.

The fifth-ranked Cassar was paired with No. 6 Jordan Wood, his toughest test of the season. He aced it.

The first question was whether Cassar, who weighed in Sunday at 229.8 pounds, could hit his patented double on an opponent as large (250 pounds) and as talented as Wood. The answer came in the first period and was a resounding, “Yes!”

Cassar penetrated on a double, lifted Wood easily off his feet and dumped him to the mat with a thud for the first of five takedowns the Nittany Lion would score in a dominating 12-3 win. Cassar admitted that was a statement move.

“Yeah, definitely. A lot of these guys are a little lighter than I think when I first get in but it's good to make that first takedown; it’s big. Definitely feel really strong and definitely can compete with those guys in that area,” Cassar said. “I have a little more pop. It was always taking a lot out of me cutting that weight down to 197 so I have a little more pop with my strength and power and speed and a little more true to myself at heavyweight.”

The win ran Cassar’s record to 6-0 and has changed the narrative from whether he’ll be the starter, something that hasn’t been officially settled, to talk of whether Cassar could be a national title contender.

“There's been a lot of ups and downs and I've just learned to stay true to myself, true to my family and true to my faith and use those ups and downs to grow as a man and grow closer to God and at the end of the day I'm going to do what's best for myself and take those lessons and be the best I can be. I feel like I've been doing that so far,” he said.

Lehigh head coach Pat Santoro expected a closer match, but gave a nod to Cassar’s effort.

“Jordan Wood, we thought that would be a lot closer match, obviously. Cassar, that was pretty special the way he wrestled. We’ve got to make some adjustments the next time we wrestle there,” he said.

The final score of the match might indicate that Penn State wrestled about the best it could, but the fact of the matter Sunday was that, in winning their 48th straight dual meet, the Nittany Lions were facing an opponent that was missing six starters.

“It’s hard. This is probably the lowest point we’ve had as a program, result oriented. We still have good kids. Nothing’s changed. We’re going to be a lot better in a month. We’re going to be a lot better in two months,” said Santoro, who admitted he’s never been part of a team that had suffered so many injuries to starters.

“Never. Never. Some of them are unrelated to wrestling. It’s been a really strange fall. It’s been very unique. We can sit back and feel sorry for ourselves when we have a lot of adversity, or we can rise up. I think we can rise up. Our attitude has to be consistent. The message has to be the same. We’re trying to get better every time out.”

On this day, though, Penn State added some more superlatives to a series with its oldest foe in which it has dominated. After the 108th meeting, the series now stands at 70-34-3 in the Nittany Lions’ favor.

The shutout was Penn State’s third in series history and the most lopsided of those three. Penn State had previously notched 33-0 (Dec. 7, 2007) and 39-0 (Feb. 13, 1993) whitewashes. In this one, Penn State amassed an unheard of 47-0 edge in takedowns.

Nittany Lion coach Cael Sanderson acknowledged the fact that the Mountain Hawks weren’t even at half strength in not scoring a takedown.

“I think our guys wrestled well, but we also saw half of Lehigh’s team. Who knows? I thought our guys wrestled well,” he said.

“If today was the first day of the national tournament, we’re ready to go. Regardless of who our opponents are, we’re looking more at what we’re doing, how our tie-ups are, what we’re doing in the baseline defense. I think right now our guys are on track.”

With so many top-level Lehigh starters out of the lineup, only three bouts featured a pair of ranked wrestlers. Two of them came at the very start, after a random draw set the starting weight at 197.

Top-ranked Bo Nickal used seven takedowns to fashion a 19-4 technical fall over No. 15 Jake Jakobsen to open the match. Cassar followed with his major decision.

The final matchup of ranked wrestlers came at 174, where second-ranked Mark Hall won another close bout with No. 7 Jordan Kutler, 6-1.

“I think Kutler’s a really tough wrestler. He has great positioning and just great fundamentals. They wrestled a couple times last year and it seems like it was a one-point or a one-takedown match, so I was glad to see Mark get two,” Sanderson said.

“I think he wrestled well. Kutler is one of the best guys in the country and I thought Mark wrestled really well. When he needed to go score, he got a little more urgency and he was able to go score.”

In addition to those three wins, Penn State stacked up two falls, three other major decisions and two more decisions.

Penn State got back-to-back falls from two of its top-ranked wrestlers, 157-pounder Jason Nolf and 165-pounder Vincenzo Joseph.

Nolf initially met some resistance from Lehigh freshman Josh Humphreys before the fall came.

“Humphreys is going to be special. He’s going to be special. He’ll get better. He wants to be great,” Santoro said. “Josh is going to be all right. You can prepare for it all you want, but until you’re actually wrestling, things can happen and it happened. He came through the Winn Dixie OK, but didn’t come through the cradle. He’s really talented. We like Josh a lot.

Roman Bravo-Young (133), Nick Lee (141) and Shakur Rasheed (184) all rolled up major decisions. Devin Schnupp (125) and Jarod Verkleeren (149) earned decisions.

Despite watching his team get rolled by its oldest, fiercest rival, Santoro was pragmatic in his assessment of his team.

“Sometimes we were just outclassed. They have a pretty special team right now. Sometimes we didn’t follow the game plan all the time. In some of the bigger matches, we didn’t attack enough. That was the difference. We kind of let the momentum of the match get away from us,” he said.

Lehigh’s road doesn’t get any easier. It goes on the road to take on Iowa on Dec. 8 and then faces, among others, Missouri, Minnesota, Cornell, Arizona State, Virginia Tech, Arizona State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

“The schedule’s the schedule. The Big Ten has a tough schedule. It’s about getting better each week. We have to continue to do that. We prepared this schedule for 11 returning qualifiers. We have three in the lineup,” he said.

“We have some young guys getting some great experience. I think they’re going to get better. They have to be in these environments for their career, not necessarily for this week or this month, but maybe the month after that.”

Penn State returns to action at 6 p.m. Dec. 14 in Rec Hall when No. 16 Arizona State visits in a dual meet that will be televised live on ESPN2.

 

No. 1 Penn State 42

No. 8 Lehigh       0

(Sunday at University Park)

197: No. 1 Bo Nickal, PSU, won by tech. fall over No. 15 Jake Jakobsen, 19-4 (5:31).

285: No. 5 Anthony Cassar, PSU, maj. Dec. No. 6 Jordan Wood, 12-3.

125: Devin Schnupp, PSU, dec. Luke Resnick, 6-1.

133: Roman Bravo-Young, PSU, maj. dec. Brandon Paetzell, 13-5.

141: No. 4 Nick Lee, PSU, maj. Dec. Ryan Pomrinca, 23-10.

149: Jarod Verkleeren, PSU, dec. Jimmy Hoffman, 5-3.

157: No. 1 Jason Nolf, PSU, pinned Josh Humphreys, 6:19.

165: No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph, PSU, pinned Trey Cornish, 4:47.

174: No. 2 Mark Hall, PSU, dec. No. 7 Jordan Kutler, 6-1.

184: No. 4 Shakur Rasheed, PSU, maj. Dec. Andrew Price, 11-2.

Ridge Riley Award winner: Anthony Cassar, 285 pounds.

Referee: J.R. Johnson.

Attendance: 6,529.

Takedowns: Lehigh 0; Penn State 47.

Records: Lehigh 0-3; Penn State 3-0.

Next match: Arizona State at Penn State, 6 p.m. Dec. 14.