DES MOINES, Iowa — Legions of Penn State wrestling fans have hung on the exploits of one man’s college career for five years.
The locals in Wingate? They’ve followed Quentin Wright’s wrestling campaigns even longer.
They’ve been on the edges of their seats for every one of his trademark throws, have cheered every one of his gutsy pinning combinations, and exalted each and every one of his jarring takedowns.
In the end, the Nittany Lion senior and Bald Eagle Area High graduate blew them kisses following his final underhook — coming against Kent State’s Dustin Kilgore in the 197-pound NCAA championship bout on Saturday night. Wright’s 8-6 win sent Penn State fans that packed one corner of the Wells Fargo Arena into a frenzy and clinched Penn State’s third consecutive NCAA team championship. Wright was joined by junior Ed Ruth (184), who also won his second national title.
“A pin would’ve been better, but a win is good,” Wright, who finished 36-0, said. “The team race is really important to me personally. I knew one of us had to take it upon our shoulders to get it, I thought, ‘Why not me? Lets go out there, lets clinch the team race so it’ll take the pressure off of Nico (Megaludis) and David (Taylor).
Megaludis, Taylor and Matt Brown finished as runners-up at 125, 165 and 174 pounds, respectively, while the Nittany Lions won the team title with 123.5 points to Oklahoma State’s 119.5.
Wright played second fiddle to Kilgore in the national rankings for much of the season and made his way to the finals with a fall and a 7-3 decision, but failed to mount much offense in his other two wins. Kilgore, meanwhile, was a takedown machine en route to his showdown with Wright.
In the end, those trends were reversed.
A hulking, physical brute who hadn’t been taken down all season and hadn’t lost a match since December 29, 2010, Kilgore was no match for the quicker, craftier Nittany Lion veteran.
Wright got in on Kilgore’s legs and took him down to begin the scoring. Wright would add two more takedowns while Kilgore settled for one and four escapes.
As he walked into the interview room after his win, Wright let out a labored breath as he pulled a blue shirt adorned with a Nittany Lion logo over his head and joked that his arms were sore.
“I knew that I just had to be smart and know when to take the risk, after that, he had the rest time and he was ready to go. I wanted to just tire him out a little bit,” Wright said.
Meanwhile, Ruth cruised to an unbeaten record at 184 just prior to Wright’s win.
He outdueled Hamlin and made Wright’s title-clinching win easier with five takedowns to post a 12-4 major decision over Lehigh’s Robert Hamlin. Afterward, Ruth said his shoulders were sore after a long season wrestling up a weight from last year.
“These guys are bigger. It was a bigger mountain,” Ruth said. “It just made the prize more better when you get to the top.”
As for Megaludis, Brown and Taylor, they’ll have to wait for next season to return to that raised platform to vie for titles again.
Although he became an All-American for the first time in his career, Brown lost the first title bout of the night, a 2-1 defeat to Oklahoma State’s Chris Perry in a tiebreaker period. Brown was in trouble when he couldn’t get out from under Perry, who had an escape of his own when he chose down to start the tiebreaker. Instead, Perry locked his legs in on Brown and held him down for the 2-1 win.
Megaludis lost to Illinois’ Jesse Delgado, 7-3. The decisive points came when Delgado flipped the Penn State sophomore onto his back for a takedown and three nearfall points late in the third period.
Taylor fired out against Cornell’s Kyle Dake with a takedown just 17 seconds in, but Dake secured a takedown, then put together big rides to close out the first period and another long one in the third to keep Taylor from mounting any offense. Taylor escaped, but with just three seconds left he was out of time and Dake won, 5-4.
Despite his loss, Taylor’s impressive run in which he pinned his way to the finale for the second straight season earned him the Gorriaran Award for the most falls — four — in the least amount of time, 9:23.
Without Taylor’s bonus-point efforts, Sanderson said, there would be a slim chance Penn State could’ve been in position to win its third team title.
“He’s made this sport a better sport and I couldn’t be more proud of the kid,” head coach Cael Sanderson said. “He’s great. He’s an awesome, awesome wrestler and an even better leader.”
Taylor, Ruth, Brown and Megaludis will return for Penn State next season, when they’ll be joined by their teammates in another national title chase.
“It’s my job to make sure they’re ready. Each one, each individual,” Sanderson said. “I’m not sure I did a very good job. That’s the hard part as a coach because you’re always, ‘Man we just won the nationals,’ but we had guys that didn’t reach their goal.”
Wright, however, will ride off into the sunset at the top of the sport he’s given most of his life to.
He did it Saturday night with a big smile, remembering back to how he felt when he won his first NCAA championship as a sophomore 184-pounder and how he felt when he lost a title bout last year.
“Especially (my sophomore) year and a little bit last year, losing in the finals, dealing with those doubts and stuff, going through those things made it possible for me to go undefeated this year and beat the people that I did,” Wright said.