IOWA CITY, Ia. — Penn State sophomore Bo Nickal celebrated his pin by putting his hand up to his ear.
The second-ranked wrestler at 184 pounds knew what he would hear from Iowa’s crowd of 14,311 on Friday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The Hawkeyes held the defending national champions in check early for the teams' massive Big Ten dual and threatened a comeback thanks to senior Alex Meyer at 174, but Nickal and Penn State quieted the hopeful home side with a 26-11 victory.
“We’ve got the best fans,” Iowa head coach Tom Brands said. “We’ve got the best table. We just need to get the best wrestling.”
Adding to their loss at No. 1 Oklahoma State last Sunday, the Hawkeyes (7-2, 3-1) dropped back-to-back regular season duals for the first time since 2012.
Meyer, Thomas Gilman and Cory Clark earned Iowa’s victories in 10 matches against the second-ranked Nittany Lions (8-0, 4-0). The Hawkeyes lost two decisions in overtime and the final match by technical fall.
Meyer’s thrilling win over uber-talented true freshman Mark Hall closed the team score deficit to 12-11 with three matches remaining. Then Nickal used a spladle to pin Iowa’s fourth-ranked senior Sammy Brooks in 38 seconds and stun the crowd.
“It was incredible,” Nickal said. “The Iowa fans were super intense, and it was awesome just to get to wrestle in front of that crowd. You can just tell how much they appreciate the sport of wrestling and how knowledgeable they are.”
The bad news began for Iowa an hour before the dual even started. The team announced sophomore heavyweight Sam Stoll would miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL, less than a month after he made his competitive return from a knee injury he suffered last season. Stoll was 7-2 this season and ranked No. 9 in the nation, despite not wrestling until the Midlands Championships.
Steven Holloway replaced Stoll on Friday, forced to face Penn State’s fourth-ranked heavyweight Nick Nevills on short notice. Iowa’s undersized redshirt freshman lost 21-6 in a match that further displayed the difference in the two squads’ depth.
The national championship rematch at 149 delivered an overtime thriller that was exponentially more competitive than last March’s major decision. Penn State’s top-ranked Zain Retherford won again — 9-8 in the second tiebreaker period — but had to scrape for every point against Brandon Sorensen as the Hawkeye scored takedowns in the first and third periods.
“Sorensen showed he can escape and he showed he can take Zain Retherford down,” Brands said. “He’s not about moral victories.”
The test was a welcome challenge for coach Cael Sanderson, who has overseen five national titles since leaving his alma mater of Iowa State in 2009.
“Zain is probably the toughest kid I’ve ever met,” Sanderson said. “He just found a way to win the match. Sorensen did a great job, and you always expect that. Iowa is great at what they do and trying to shut you down.”
Two other top bouts split decisions between the schools, with No. 1 wrestlers coming out on top.
Gilman, a runner-up last year like Sorensen, held off Penn State’s third-ranked Nick Suriano in a 3-2 win. The nation’s No. 1 at 125 had to hand-fight and work for a late escape to edge the previously unbeaten freshman.
Penn State took a No. 1 vs. No. 2 match a few minutes later at 157, as Jason Nolf handed Iowa’s Michael Kemerer the first loss of his redshirt freshman season. A scoreless opening period slipped away from Kemerer as the confident top-ranked visitor won 9-4.
Clark rolled to Iowa’s only other victory against overmatched George Carpenter at 133.
Recent NCAA tournament results might show these two powers are in different classes right now. But mistakes such as Topher Carton conceding late takedowns at 141, Cash Wilcke coming on too late at 197, and Joey Gunther giving up points in streaks at 165 will stick in Brands’ craw.
“We were turning down,” Brands said. “That’s not how you beat good guys. That’s not how you beat good teams.”
NO. 2 PENN STATE 26, NO. 4 IOWA 11
125 pounds—Thomas Gilman (Iowa) dec. Nick Suriano, 3-2
133—Cory Clark (Iowa) tech. fall George Carpenter, 19-4
141—Jimmy Gulibon (PSU) dec. Topher Carton, 8-6
149—Zain Retherford (PSU) dec. Brandon Sorensen, 9-8
157—Jason Nolf (PSU) dec. Michael Kemerer, 9-4
165—Vincenzo Joseph (PSU) dec. Joey Gunther, 7-4
174—Alex Meyer (Iowa) dec. Mark Hall, 7-5
184—Bo Nickal (PSU) pinned Sammy Brooks, 0:38
197—Matt McCutcheon (PSU) dec. Cash Wilcke, 8-7
285—Nick Nevills (PSU) tech. fall Steven Holloway, 21-6