On paper, the third-ranked Iowa wrestling team had every bit a chance to win Friday night’s dual with Penn State as the top-ranked Nittany Lions.
Both teams had top-ranked wrestlers and both had matches they should have won.
The Hawkeyes took care of the matches they were favored in and did a little more as Tony Ramos earned a big win by fall at 133 and sophomore Mike Evans won the only true swing match of the night during a 22-16 victory over Penn State in front of a loud and crazy sold-out crowd of 15,077 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The win gave the third-ranked Hawkeyes (16-1, 6-0) sole possession of first place in the Big Ten and snapped Penn State’s (8-1, 5-1) streak of 20 consecutive dual victories.
“I’ve got a bit of a smile on my face because we won the close matches and we scored bonus points,” said head coach Tom Brands. “That’s often the difference and that was the difference tonight.”
Top-ranked Matt McDonough and top-ranked Derek St. John both could have lost for the first time this season but gutted out wins in the closing seconds. McDonough won 2-1 in sudden victory over No. 1 Nico Megaludis, while St. John rallied for a 4-3 win with a late takedown on No. 5 Dylan Alton. McDonough improved to 8-0 against ranked opponents this season.
“It is not about always having your best match,” McDonough said. “It is about finding a way when you are not at your best. I did that tonight.”
Evans, ranked No. 6, also could have lost his match at 174 as he went wire-to-wire with No. 4 Matt Brown. Evans trailed in the third period but came up with a big takedown late to win 4-3. That win ended up being one of the deciders against the two-time defending champion Nittany Lions, who lost but still will make noise come the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Tournament.
“They may be swing matches on paper,” said Evans, “but everyone on the team needs to step up and be a leader. Maybe I’ve had more opportunities than others, but it’s something we need to be doing.”
Leading 19-16 with one match to go and a needing a win to avoid losing by criteria, the Hawkeyes got a good performance from No. 6 Bobby Telford at heavyweight. If Telford was upset, Penn State would have won the dual based on total match points, but Telford dominated from the first whistle and left no doubt, winning 9-2 with riding time.
“It was my third chance (to finish a dual), and against Minnesota and Oklahoma State I was 0-2,” said Telford. “It was one of the matches on paper we needed to have. Sometimes we need bonus points, sometimes we just need a win. Either way I need to be getting my hand raised at the end.”
The other win for Iowa was picked up by No. 8 Mark Ballweg at 141 as he won by major decision over unranked Bryan Pearsall. The Hawkeyes won 6 out of the 10 matches and scored bonus points in two of them.
The biggest bonus points came from Ramos, who is undefeated and ranked No. 2, at 133 as he jumped all over unranked Jordan Conaway. Ramos led big before pulling off an impressive move that put Conaway on his back.
Shortly after that, the referee slapped the mat, bringing Ramos into celebration and the large Iowa crowd to its feet.
Ballweg’s major was his team-best 10th of the season. Ramos’s pin was his seventh of the year and improved his record to 22-0 all-time at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, and McDonough’s victory extended his winning streak to 42 straight matches. The Iowa trio is a combined 47-1 this year.
St. John also stayed unbeaten at 17-0. Ramos (22-0), St. John (21-0) and Evans (14-0) are all undefeated at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“It was a big dual,” added Brands. “We had it highlighted, I’m sure they had it highlighted, but in the grand scheme of things you have to be ready every week. We had some gutsy performances tonight, but we need to turn it into progress. We’re not there yet.”
Penn State’s big guns did what they had to do for the most part. But No. 19 Nathan Burak did avoid bonus points from No. 3 Quentin Wright at 197. The former NCAA champion Wright struggled to score points and only scored an 8-3 victory.
However, defending NCAA champions David Taylor (165) and Ed Ruth (184) both got bonus points with a technical fall and major decision, respectively.
The Hawkeyes return to the mat Feb. 8 at Illinois. BTN will televise the dual beginning at 7 p.m.
#3 IOWA 22, #1 PENN STATE 16
125 – #1 Matt McDonough (IA) dec. #2 Nico Megludis (PSU), 2-1 (TB1); 3-0
133 – #2 Tony Ramos (IA) pinned Jordan Conaway (PSU), 4:23; 9-0
141 – #9 Mark Ballweg (IA) major dec. Bryan Pearsall (PSU), 12-2; 13-0
149 – #8 Andrew Alton (PSU) major dec. Brody Grothus (IA), 18-8; 13-4
157 – #1 Derek St. John (IA) dec. #5 Dylan Alton (PSU), 4-3; 16-4
165 – #2 David Taylor (PSU) tech. fall #13 Nick Moore, 18-2; 16-9
174 – #6 Mike Evans (IA) dec. #4 Matt Brown (PSU), 4-3; 19-9
184 – #1 Ed Ruth (PSU) major dec. Grant Gambrall (IA), 21-10; 19-13
197 – #3 Quentin Wright (PSU) dec. #19 Nathan Burak (IA), 8-3; 19-16
285 – #6 Bobby Telford (IA) dec. #17 Jon Gingrich (PSU), 9-2; 22-16