There’s a reason Anthony Cassar, on the brink of upsetting the No. 1 wrestler, turned to the crowd and raised his arms as his 197-pound bout wound down to the final seconds.
Having 6,699 screaming Nittany Lions fans bearing down on the mat is enough to knock even the most seasoned wrestler off his game. But, for Cassar, it gave him the extra boost to hold off Ohio State’s Kollin Moore.
“It was just fun to have everyone cheer,” he said after the Nittany Lions’ 19-18 win Saturday night. “I haven’t really wrestled in Rec Hall for awhile, so it felt good to have people cheering for you.”
The dual, touted on social media as the “Super Bowl” of college wrestling, drummed up hype across the country, spiking ticket sales into the hundreds and leading Ohio State’s coach Tom Ryan to call for the match to be relocated to the Bryce Jordan Center to accommodate a larger crowd.
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But some fans, such as Joseph Garnett, who runs game day operations for Penn State’s student section — “The RECKoning” — were glad for the more intimate atmosphere.
“Being at Rec Hall, with everyone right on top, it’s even better than the BJC match,” he said. “It’s all of our fans, screaming and yelling for our guys, really getting rowdy and bringing a little bit of intimidation in the beginning.”
And bring it they did.
With students were lined up to the edge of the mat, and people packed shoulder to shoulder around the upper-level track, the crowd might have broken the sound barrier.
When 125-pound Carson Kuhn busted onto the scene in his Penn State debut, coming out with three takedowns in the first period against the three-time All-American and 2015 national champ Nathan Tomasello, the crowd, knowing what was at stake, rose to its feet, cheering him on.
And the noise level never really died down from there.
The excitement that built up leading up to this showdown between the No. 1 and No. 2 dual teams in the country has been compared to rivalry matches between Iowa and Iowa State and Iowa and Oklahoma State in the 1980s and ’90s. Even those who witnessed those other intense rivalries felt this one belonged in that conversation.
“This is my 32nd year doing this, and I’ve done No. 1 vs No. 2 back in the day, and when people ask me where my favorite place to do a meet is, I will tell you: ‘Anywhere it’s packed, and anywhere it’s No. 1 vs 2,’” Big Ten and ESPN wrestling analyst Tim Johnson told the Centre Daily Times. “So when you ask where this one ranks, it ranks right at the top.”
The hype brought out people from all cross-sections of the fandom, from usher Lefty McIntyre, who’s been involved with the Penn State wrestling program since his freshman year of college in 1950, to Deontay Wadley, a senior attending his first match.
“I’m excited,” Wadley said before the match. “I mean it’s the biggest match of the year. I’m looking forward to (Bo) Nickal vs. (Myles) Martin, and Mark Hall, but I really want to see an upset at 197.”
Wabley got his wish, and people jumped out of their seats as Cassar ran around the mat in a victory dance.
Each wrestler played its part in Penn State’s narrow win Saturday night, but it could also be said that the rambunctious crowd provided an 11th man on the mat.