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No. 1 Penn State claims Big Ten regular-season title with 21-13 win over No. 8 Nebraska at home

by Andy Elder, Special to

Graphic courtesy of Penn State athletics.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Nebraska coach Mark Manning sounded Sunday very much like Ohio State’s Tom Ryan did on Friday night.

Both coaches had just watched their squads fall to No. 1 Penn State and each had come to the same conclusion. Wins in tight bouts were the key, and the home team won more of them.

The Nittany Lions (16-0, 8-0 B1G) won six of 10 bouts to turn away No. 8 Nebraska (5-4, 2-4), 21-13, and claim the Big Ten regular-season championship. They are outright champions for the first time since 2018 and maintain their distinction as the only undefeated team in Division 1.

“I think these guys did a great job. They should be really proud and excitred,” Nittany Lion coach Cael Sanderson said. “Even going back to November, we had guys out and sick and these guys found a way to win those matches. That’s what’s it’s going to take to win the nationals and Big Tens is a great team effort. We’ve got some good practice.”

Penn State has done it while sending 11 different lineups to the mat in those 16 dual meets.

“We came here to win,” Manning said. “All of these matches in the Big Ten are tight so, you know, winning close matches is the key.”

Even with three starters out of the lineup — Brady Berge (165), Carter Starocci (174) and Max Dean (197) — Penn State was able to amass a 26-9 advantage in takedowns and run its nation-leading dual meet win streak to 27. It notched a technical fall, major decision and four decisions.

“This was one of those matches that, on paper, it was looking like it was going to be tight, not a lot of room for error,” Sanderson said. “I think the guys wrestled pretty well for the most part.”

Penn State jumped out to an 8-0 lead after two weights.

Drew Hildebrandt notched a measured 4-0 win at 125 with a takedown, escape and riding time point against Jeremiah Reno. Then, at 133, Roman Bravo-Young asserted his dominance on his feet early, registering five takedowns in the first period and adding five more in the third for a 23-8 technical fall in 7 minutes over Dominick Serrano.

Nick Lee pushed the advantage to 11-0 with a 4-1 win over Chad Red at 141. Lee scored an initial takedown in the first and rode Red out, then added an escape and riding time point to earn yet another win over a fellow Hoosier state wrestler.

“He's a really good wrestler and he's got a lot of dangerous stuff and I have some dangerous stuff too. And sometimes what that turns into is like a boring match because no one wants to get exposed,” Lee said with a smile. “I think just understanding what the other guy's got and continuing to stick with your own technique and make sure you're doing all the basics is really important.”

Nebraska’s Ridge Lovett got the Huskers on the board at 149, as he blanked Beau Bartlett. Lovett used takedowns in the first two periods and a dominating leg ride to accumulate 4:32 in riding time advantage to cruise to the win.

Peyton Robb made it two in a row for the Huskers with a 3-2 win over Terrell Barraclough at 157. Robb scored a takedown early in the first period and Barraclough escaped a short time later. The two traded escapes in the second and third. Barraclough was in on a takedown attempt in the waning seconds but couldn’t convert.

With starters out at 174 and 197, Penn State’s Creighton Edsell notched an important win coming out of the break. Paired with Huskers backup Tahjae Jenkins-Harris, Edsell led 2-0 on the strength of a first-period takedown and then scored a flurry of points in the third, two takedowns, an escape, stall point and riding time point for a 9-2 decision.

Nebraska cut the Penn State lead to 14-10 after 174, as Mikey Labriola was too much for Mason Manville, who was subbing in again for Starocci. The Husker used six takedowns to engineer a 14-4 major decision.

That set up a showdown between Penn State’s Aaron Brooks and Taylor Venz, the only man to defeat Brooks on a collegiate mat. That came on Jan. 24, 2020. Brooks has won four rematches since, including his 14-4 domination on Sunday. Brooks exploited a clear advantage on his feet, racking up six takedowns in the win.

Brooks seemed to shift into another gear in the second period, and said he could sense a change in Venz.

“It’s a feel. In the first period I usually try to get two or three takedowns, 4-1 is a great way to end the period. After that, to my feet. Depending on how I feel he’s pressuring back or how he’s reacting, kind of go for that feel. If he’s acting a little slow, all right keep it on him. If he’s letting me hang a little more, stay on him,” he said.

Manning said Venz needs to adjust his tactics against Brooks.

“We have to get to our positions better. He’s (Brooks) been able to score getting to our legs a lot. We haven’t had the answer there,” he said. “So, we need to make some changes that way.”

Michael Beard filled in for Dean at 197 and very nearly pulled off an upset of Eric Schultz. Beard scored the only two takedowns of the bout, in the first and third periods.

With the bout tied at 2-2, Schultz escaped to start the third, but Beard scored a go-ahead takedown. Schultz stood and Beard hiked his leg in the air. The referee called Beard twice for stalling, awarding Schultz a point and then two points for the difference in the Husker’s 6-4 win.

“If you know Eric Schultz, he’s got a big heart,” Manning said. “He’s going to wrestle hard the whole time and he’s got a never-say-die attitude. He’s going to fight you to the end. He’s a competitor.

Penn State put the match away with a solid 8-2 decision from Greg Kerkvliet over Christian Lance. Kerkvliet scored a takedown in each period. He appeared to tweak his hamstring in the third but Sanderson said he thought his heavyweight would be fine.

With the Big Ten dual portion of their season complete, the Nittany Lions have nearly two weeks off before they conclude the season at 2 p.m. Feb. 20 in Rec Hall against Rider.

Sanderson joked about how the Nittany Lions will spend that time.

“We’re going to be spending a lot of time on the track. It’s gonna be great,” he said, smiling and looking at Lee and Brooks who were sitting and waiting to address the media. “Get them a fresh pair of running shoes. Nike, of course.”

No. 1 Penn State 21

No. 8 Nebraska 13

(Sunday at University Park, Pa.)

125: No. 6 Drew Hildebrandt, PSU, dec. Jeremiah Reno, 4-0.

133: No. 1 Roman Bravo-Young, PSU, won by tech. fall over Dominick Serrano, 23-8 (7:00).

141: No. 1 Nick Lee, PSU, dec. No. 8 Chad Red, 4-1.

149: No. 8 Ridge Lovett, NEB, dec. No. 18 Beau Bartlett, 6-0.

157: No. 5 Peyton Robb, NEB, dec. Terrell Barraclough, 3-1.

165: Creighton Edsell, PSU, dec. Tahjae Jenkins-Harris, 9-2.

174: No. 5 Mikey Labriola, NEB, maj. dec. Mason Manville, 14-4.

184: No. 1 Aaron Brooks, PSU, maj. dec. No. 9 Taylor Venz, 14-4.

197: No. 3 Eric Schultz, NEB, dec. Michael Beard, 6-4.

285: No. 5 Greg Kerkvliet, PSU, dec. No. 12 Christian Lance, 8-2.
Extra matches:

Brandon Meredith, PSU, dec. Edwin Thomsen, 7-6;

Donovan Ball, PSU, dec. Brandyn Van Tassel, 8-2.

Ridge Riley Award winner: Nick Lee.

Attendance: 6,520.

Referees: Matt Sorochinsky, Jim Rivello.

Records: Nebraska 5-4, 2-4; Penn State 16-0, 8-0.

Next match: Rider at Penn State, 2 p.m. Feb. 20.
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