All year long, Penn State has been the favorite to win its seventh national title in eight years.
Those national title hopes took a hit Sunday.
The Nittany Lions (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) saw reigning 157-pound national champion Jason Nolf injury default during their 25-15 come-from-behind victory over Rutgers (5-5, 1-4 Big Ten) in front of a Scarlet Knights’ record crowd of 8,321 in Piscataway, N.J.
The junior was leading No. 17 John Van Brill 5-4 early in the second period when the injury occurred. The two were scrambling on the edge of the mat with Van Brill gripping Nolf’s ankle and pressuring Nolf’s leg. The official called for a stalemate. Van Brill jumped right to his feet, but Nolf just laid there.
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With his eyes open as wide as possible, he reached down to his right knee. Trainer Dan Monthly and coaches Cael and Cody Sanderson came to the side of Nolf.
Monthly worked on Nolf’s knee for about three minutes before getting the Nittany Lion to his feet. It was too serious for Nolf to continue, and he was forced to quit the match with 1:27 remaining in the period.
Barely putting any weight on the leg, Nolf hobbled off the mat and wasn’t seen the rest of the dual. The loss snapped Nolf’s 46-straight match winning streak. The severity of the injury is not yet known.
Intermission came right after the match, but Penn State’s bench was arguing the official didn’t stop the bout in time to keep Nolf from getting injured. The Nittany Lions had a team point deducted for the arguing. They trailed 15-6 at the break.
Before the injury, all eyes were on the reunion with former Penn State wrestler Nick Suriano, the national No. 1 at 125 pounds. Sporting the Rutgers singlet, Suriano put on a show for the home crowd by pinning Devin Schnupp with 20 seconds remaining in their bout. He gave the Scarlet Knights a 6-0 lead after the first bout of the day.
Rutgers then went on to win at 133 pounds thanks to a 6-2 decision from Scott Delvecchio over Corey Keener. The Scarlet Knights led 9-0 through two bouts — but any early celebration was short-lived.
Nick Lee and Zain Retherford helped turn the dual around with back-to-back wins.
Lee was relentless with his attacks of Michael Van Brill and came out with a 5-2 win at 141 pounds. Retherford, much like he does with all of his opponents, infuriated Eleazor DeLuca and caused him to lose his cool in a 14-2 major decision. The Nittany Lion senior earned four penalty points from DeLuca.
After the break, following Nolf’s injury, Penn State swept the final five bouts to complete its rally.
The Nittany Lions’ Vincenzo Joseph picked up two takedowns of No. 11 Richie Lewis at 165 pounds. He gave up a penalty point for grabbing Lewis’ headgear with 19 seconds to go but hung on for a 5-4 win. Teammate Mark Hall cut the deficit to 15-14 after racking up 10 takedowns — five alone in the third period — against the outmatched Joe Grello. Hall got the riding time point, which gave him a 24-9 technical fall.
But Penn State didn’t take the lead until Bo Nickal hung on to beat No. 12 Nicholas Gravina 6-5 at 184. From there, it was all PSU.
Anthony Cassar, who got the nod at 197, and Nick Nevills finished the dual off with major decision victories. Cassar snapped off seven takedowns on the undersized Anthony Messner en route to a 16-5 win. Nevills came up a point shy of the technical fall of Ralph Normandia in a 21-7 win. Nevills, who looked explosive as ever, had nine takedowns in his bout.
The Nittany Lions now shift their focus to No. 2 Ohio State. The Buckeyes come to town on Saturday for a showdown inside Rec Hall — and Penn State may have to face them without of its stars.