Roman Bravo-Young and former teammate Brody Teske (bottom) at the 133 lb weight class (photo courtesy of Juan Garcia;JCG Photograhpy)
UNIVERSITY PARK - Penn State wrestling tightened its grip on its place atop the national and Big Ten dual rankings Friday as the No. 1 Nittany Lions defeated No. 2 Iowa, 23-14, in front of an NCAA record-tying 15,998 fans at the Bryce Jordan Center.
From the fire shooting out of the rafters, to NFL star and Penn State alum Micah Parsons leading "We Are" chants, and the suspense of a back-and-forth battle throughout, the dual lived up to its highly anticipated billing.
Penn State coach Cael Sanderson - who earned his 100th Big Ten victory - however, may have been a bit underwhelmed. His team took six of 10 bouts and won the takedown battle 16-2.
"It was kind of a slow match," Sanderson said. "A match like that gets great ratings and a lot of people are hyped about it. Unfortunately, they're not the most exciting if people aren't flying around a lot. So, hopefully, it was still a great event for the spectators and for the TV audience. That's what I would think more about. Good job guys not giving up takedowns, but wrestling's got to be exciting."
The dual certainly started out exciting. The Nittany Lions rolled out Marco Vespa at 125 pounds to take on three-time NCAA champ Spencer Lee in his dual meet debut. The sophomore didn't let the fact that Lee has pinned six straight opponents intimidate him, as he got in on Lee's ankle and took him down right off the opening whistle and locked up the cradle.
The crowd was electrified for a brief moment, until Lee hit a reversal and went to work doing what he does, tilting Vespa four times to earn the 18-2 technical fall at 2:14.
Vespa took the place Friday night of redshirt freshman Gary Steen, who has been holding down 125 pounds so far this season, compiling a 5-9 record.
"(Vespa) wanted to wrestle and Gary was a little banged up from last week, so we went with it and brought a little excitement there for … a second," Sanderson said with a chuckle.
It didn't take long, though, for the excitement to return for the home crowd.
Not to be outdone by Lee, two-time national champ Roman Bravo-Young capitalized on a late takedown attempt from his former Penn State teammate and training partner Brody Teske and took him to his back for the fall with just 14 seconds remaining in the bout to give the Nittany Lions the 6-5 lead.
That lead wouldn't last for long, though, as the Hawkeyes took the next two bouts - a pair of 4-1 decisions for No. 2 Real Woods and No. 7 Max Murin over No. 4 Beau Bartlett and No. 13 Shayne Van Ness, respectively. Outside of the opening seconds of the 141-pound bout where Woods and Bartlett attempted to throw each other, the two matches had limited action. Woods and Murin had a takedown apiece - the lone two for the Hawkeyes - and plenty of riding time.
"We've got to go back and look at some of those matches," Sanderson said. "I think we've got some young guys in some tough situations against some experienced wrestlers - some good wrestlers. Iowa's good, their coaches are very good. They're very tactical and they come in with a strong gameplan, so we'll just get better and learn from those experiences. We've got to get off the bottom. We've got to be able to clear ties and get an angle on a shot.
"Like everybody, we've always got something to work on and Iowa always does a good job of showing you what you need to work on."
Penn State got back in the win column at 157 pounds, where true freshman Levi Haines officially burned his redshirt. Having earned Penn State fans' favor last week with a key upset against Michigan, Haines had the crowd buzzing from the moment he ran out to "Country Boy Can Survive" to when he lifted Cobe Siebrecht off the mat for a high-double-leg takedown and got his hand raised for the 3-2 win.
The freshman's performance impressed his coach and his teammates, as Sanderson confirmed Haines is "the guy we're going with" moving forward.
"It's been exciting. It's like he's anointed," 184-pounder Aaron Brooks said. "That guy's tough, he's an Iowa wrestler. He's going to go out there and hold his position and I think it's great for (Haines) to go out there and get this experience. Because the more he wrestles, the better he gets."
Iowa earned its final win of the dual at 165 pounds, where No. 13 Patrick Kennedy took out No. 5 Alex Facundo, 2-1, in a tiebreaker decision. The pair ended regulation tied 1-1, as Facundo found himself heading into overtime for the third consecutive bout. But unlike last Friday, the tiebreaker did not go in his favor. Neither wrestler was able to score in sudden victory, and Kennedy earned a quick escape - four seconds - in the first tiebreaker period. Facundo chose neutral to give himself a chance to take Kennedy down but was unable as the Hawkeye earned the 2-1 decision.
Penn State swept the last four bouts to close out the dual, starting with defending 174-pound national champ Carter Starocci's 2-1 decision over Nelson Brands - just his second regular decision of the season. Starocci struggled to solve Brands' hand-fighting and failed to earn a takedown or draw a stall warning despite multiple shot attempts until a warning was awarded with 10 seconds left in the second period. The Nittany Lion then rode out the third period for the win.
Brooks was able to give Penn State back the lead (17-14), after a dominating 22-7 technical fall in 5:42 over Iowa 157/165-pounder Drake Rhodes, who was filling in for Abe Assad. The reigning 184-pound NCAA champ accounted for most of Penn State's takedowns with nine.
"With the team score, we fell behind a little bit there," Sanderson said. "Roman's pin helped a lot. Obviously, that was a big deal. Every point counts in a dual like that, you just don't know. You just keep wrestling, you don't know how it will end up."
The last two bouts were two of the most highly anticipated - with 197 being a rematch of the 2022 NCAA final. Similar to that match, the pair were scoreless through the first period. But a second-period escape and full-period, punishing rideout in the third gave Dean the 2-0 victory - his third over Warner.
Greg Kerkvliet closed things out with a 4-1 win over Tony Cassioppi in a top-three matchup. Kerkvliet hit a single-leg takedown with a little over a minute left in the first period, and controlled most of the match from there, adding an escape and 2:27 in riding time.
With the win, Penn State improves to 11-0 on the season, while Iowa falls to 12-1.
"We got to take our medicine in this loss," Iowa coach Tom Brands said. "But I'll tell you what, we took our medicine too much out there and in some positions during that match and you can never take your medicine when the match is going knowing that clock's ticking. That happened too much and I tell you this, we've got to get better."
Both teams have the rest of the weekend off, before Iowa heads to Minnesota and Penn State to Ohio State next Friday.
No. 1 Penn State 23, No. 2 Iowa 14
Friday, Jan. 27, at the Bryce Jordan Center
125 - #1 Spencer Lee (Iowa) tech. fall Marco Vespa (PSU), 18-2 (2:14); 5-0
133 - #1 Roman Bravo-Young (PSU) pinned Brody Teske (Iowa), 6:49; 5-6
141 - #2 Real Woods (Iowa) dec. #8 Beau Bartlett (PSU), 4-1; 8-6
149 - #11 Max Murin (Iowa) dec. #12 Shayne Van Ness (PSU), 4-1; 11-6
157 - #6 Levi Haines (PSU) dec. #17 Cobe Siebrecht (Iowa), 3-2; 11-9
165 - #9 Patrick Kennedy (Iowa) dec. #13 Alex Facundo (PSU), 2-1 (TB2); 14-9
174 - #1 Carter Starocci (PSU) dec. #15 Nelson Brands (Iowa), 2-1; 14-12
184 - #1 Aaron Brooks (PSU) tech. fall Drake Rhodes (Iowa), 22-7; 14-17
197 - #4 Max Dean (PSU) dec. #7 Jacob Warner (Iowa), 2-0; 14-20
285 - #2 Greg Kerkvliet (PSU) dec. #3 Tony Cassioppi (Iowa), 4-1; 14-23