CLEVELAND — Penn State and Ohio State staged one of the best team races in recent NCAA wrestling history.
The Nittany Lions, led by Cael Sanderson who won four state titles for Wasatch High School on his way to NCAA and Olympic glory, trailed Ohio State by six points (130.5 to 124.5) going into the championship finals Saturday night.
However, Penn State had five wrestlers in the championship finals while Ohio State had two. Ohio State stormed ahead in the consolation rounds Saturday morning but in the end Penn State's stars were too much for the Buckeyes.
Penny State's Bo Nickal (184 pounds) put the exclamation point on the title with a pin over Ohio State's Myles Martin. The Nittany Lions won with a team score of 141.5 to the Buckeyes' 134.5.
Coming into the match Penn State had surged ahead of Ohio State by six points thanks to three earlier championship finals wins by Zain Retherford (149), Jason Nolf (157) and Vicenzo Joseph (165). The only blemish for the Nittany Lions Saturday night was when Mark Hall (174) lost to Zahid Valencia of Arizona State, 8-2. This left it up to Nickal to salt the title away for the Nittany Lions.
It was the ninth meeting between the two rivals and both had won NCAA titles, Martin two years while Nickal won one last season. And though Nickal had a 6-2 advantage going into their last bout, Martin came out aggressive, perhaps too aggressive. He took Nickal to his back and was looking to get get nearfall but Nickal executed a brilliant roll through putting Martin on his back and getting the pin.
In his post match interview, Nickal shouted, "That's what we do. You come to Penn State, you win big matches, you win team titles!"
With the win by Nickal, it mean that the heavyweight match between Ohio State's Kyle Snyder and Michigan's Adam Coon would have no effect on who would win the team title. The Olympic gold medalist Snyder was now just going for his third NCAA title battling the only wrestler that had beat him this season in the Wolverine big man. And if Coon could upset Snyder, Michigan would finish in fourth place alone as North Carolina State had tied the Wolverines thanks to Michael Machiavello's 3-1 win at 197 over Virginia Tech's Jared Haught.
Snyder did pull off an exciting 3-2 win over Coon thanks to a third-round takedown. Coon scored two escapes, including one in the last few seconds, but could not get the winning takedown.
Other NCAA champions included Iowa's Spencer Lee (125), South Dakota State's Seth Gross (133) and Cornell's Yanni Diakomihalis (141).
Top 10 teams: 1. Penn State, 141.5; 2. Ohio State, 134.5; 3. Iowa, 97; 4 (tie). Michigan, N.C. State, 80. 6. Missouri, 61.5; 7. Cornell, 48; 8. Virginia Tech, 47.5; 9. Nebraska, 47; 10. Arizona State, 43. 43. Utah Valley 4. (72 teams qualified wrestlers for the NCAA meet in 2018.)
Brian Preece is a freelance sportswriter. He was also the head wrestling coach at Provo High School from 1994-2006. In 2005 Preece was named as the Utah Coach of the Year for the National Wrestling Coaches Association.