IOWA CITY – The lid never lifted off of Carver-Hawkeye Arena this time.
The big buildup of the nation’s No. 1 team coming to the home of the No. 3 squad didn’t have the same result or roars of their last meeting here. Penn State won seven f the 10 matches in front of 13,747 muted fans, and resoundingly defeated the Hawkeyes, 24-12.
When the Hawkeyes beat the Nittany Lions 22-16 here on Feb. 1, decibel-counts and spirits soared. But all Saturday’s extravaganza did was cement Penn State’s claim to being No. 1, which is where it finished the last three seasons.
Perhaps the worst part about it for Iowa was that two Lion freshmen came in and didn’t wither in their first taste of such a hostile atmosphere, and against a pair of juniors.
Cael Sanderson knew the deep well of wrestling talent that was in Pennysylvania high schools when he left Iowa State for that job in 2009, and knew Penn State had never done all it could to keep those kids inside the state’s borders. To use the old saying, he has his program at a point now where there is no rebuilding, just reloading.
Second-ranked Zain Retherford, an 18-year-old from the tiny borough of Benton, Pa., still hasn’t lost a collegiate match. He surrendered the first two points of his 141-pound match against Iowa’s Josh Dziewa, but never seemed frazzled in methodically grinding out a 4-2 win.
“I’ve had that before,” Retherford said of a big crowd that wanted him to lose. “You’ve just got to smile at it and have fun out there. They’re awesome fans. They love their wrestling program.”
His win might have gone to Penn State on paper. One that wouldn’t have was the next one, when redshirt freshman Zack Beitz of Mifflintown, Pa., had what amounted to a five-point throw – a takedown and three-point near-fall — with about 25 seconds left for a 6-1 win over Iowa’s Michael Kelly at 149.
Beitz had a mortal 6-4 mark coming in, and had a four-match losing streak at one point. But he beat a ranked Ohio State wrestler last Sunday, and looked a whole lot tougher than 6-4 here.
His win darkened the mood in the arena. It meant Iowa had to get some heroics from someone in its upper weights after intermission. That wasn’t very likely to come against PSU’s former national-champions, David Taylor and Ed Ruth, this season’s version of Gehrig-Ruth in college wrestling. Ruth, a senior, hasn’t lost since he was a freshman.
Taylor and Ruth easily decisioned two previously unbeaten Hawkeyes, Nick Moore and Ethen Lofthouse.
Ashton Kutcher, an Eastern Iowan who has accumulated fame in a different walk of life than wrestling, had a friendly exchange with Iowa’s Tony Ramos at intermission. That was a half-hour after Ramos pinned Penn State freshman Jimmy Gulibon in a moment that did fill the gym with intense glee.
More of the sort was required for Iowa, however, and precious little of it came. The match that seemed the toss-up of the night, the one the Hawkeyes had to have, came at 174 with two men who brought 11-0 records to the mat. Third-ranked Matt Brown of PSU met an old rival, sixth-ranked Mike Evans.
Evans and Brown split two decisions last season, with Evans winning the one in Carver. But Brown rode Evans the whole third period on his way to a 4-1 win.
While Iowa’s Sammy Brooks was losing a 16-4 decision to unbeaten, third-ranked Morgan McIntosh at 197, it was as quiet as it’s been in Carver for a big dual in a long, long time.
“Maybe in February things will be different,” Iowa Coach Tom Brands said. “We’re still finding some things out.
By the final match, many of the fans had headed into a snowstorm and a dreary drive home. Which fit the theme of the night.
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