A wily old veteran did what’s become expected of him in reaching a career milestone, and a gritty youngster shocked a capacity crowd and a national television audience with a stirring upset.
After both Quentin Wright’s pin at 197 pounds — the 100th of his career — and Jordan Conaway’s come-from-behind whipping of the nation’s third-ranked 133-pounder, Rec Hall shook. Following No. 1 Penn State’s 36-6 victory over No. 19 Wisconsin on Friday, the old building continued to rumble as fans stuck around to watch as Wright took a victory lap and Conaway was presented with the Ridge Riley Award, given to the most outstanding wrestler in a home dual meet.
“They both go together, really. Winning my 100th match, especially with the fall, the spladle like that, it’s incredible,” Wright said. “But I’m also going to remember ... the fact that Jordan gutted out that win. That is going to stick together. That is going to become — A. I got my 100th win that night, but also Jordan, remember that match he had? That was awesome.”
With the dual already decided, Wright took the mat for the final bout of the night against Wisconsin’s No. 20 Jackson Hein. It didn’t take Wright long to take Hein down and roll him up into a spladle for the fall at 1:24.
Conaway had to work a little harder.
The redshirt-freshman, trailed Wisconsin junior Tyler Graff 7-3 heading into the third period of their bout, the third of the night. The Penn State grappler from New Oxford skirted disaster early, scrambling away from an aggressive Graff again and again to force multiple stalemates in the first and second periods. Conaway chose down to start the third and escaped to cut Graff’s lead to three points. Graff was warned for stalling as he backed away from a Conaway shot.
But Conaway kept coming and snared two quick takedowns in the final 20 seconds to force sudden victory. In the final period, the two continued to scramble for position before Conaway slithered out from under and slid behind Graff for the winning takedown with 22 seconds left. Conaway pumped his fist as Graff laid face down on the mat.
“I had some work to do and I knew he was kind of getting tired and slowing down a little, and I just kept the pressure on and wore him out even more,” Conaway said. “Even in the second period, he was starting to slow down.”
The Penn State bench joined the biggest crowd in Rec Hall this season in jubilation as the referee raised Conaway’s hand.
“That’s probably the biggest win of his career,” Penn State junior David Taylor said. “It’s one of the biggest wins I’ve seen since I’ve been here in three years in Rec Hall.”
It’s a win that Penn State coach Cael Sanderson expects to boost Conaway’s confidence in his first season as a starter for Penn State.
It could also go a long way in considerations for an at-large bid for Conaway to the NCAA tournament, should he need one.
“That’s a good win and they’ll look at that,” Sanderson said. “You have a lot of matches but that’s a huge win for him as far as trying to get a wild card. He still has to earn his way. We don’t want to get in on the wild card process. We’d like to get their on our own account.”
No. 2 Nico Megaludis, Bryan Pearsall and Taylor added bonus-point wins for Penn State at 125, 141 and 165 pounds, respectively, while No. 1 Ed Ruth won via forfeit at 184 pounds. Megaludis won by technical fall 22-7 over Matt Cavallaris while Pearsall pinned Tom Kelliher with a cradle in 1:22. Taylor put on another clinic with nine takedowns and over six minutes of riding time in a 25-7 win over Frank Cousins.
At 174 pounds, No. 3 Matt Brown added a 12-8 decision over Scott Liegel and James Vollrath beat Kalvin York 5-3 at 157. James English lost a grueling, 11-minute match that featured two double-stalling calls to Cole Schmitt at 149. Schmitt finally got the better of English with a reversal and three nearfall points in his second tiebreaker period.
No. 11 Connor Medbery kicked off the dual with a 6-3 win for Wisconsin over No. 16 Jon Gingrich at 285.
The dual had an unusual pace to it from the start as it marked the first time Penn State has started a dual at a weight other than 125 pounds this season. Wright was slightly dismayed when the starting weight was revealed, meaning he’d have to wait all night to wrestle his match.
In the end, it was worth it. Wright stuck around to sign autographs for fans who mobbed him after the dual.
“Being a local kid, everything you do, everything you say, everybody gets to see,” Wright said. “It’s not like you’re going away and getting a new group of people. These are people that have been watching me since I’ve been six or seven, whenever I started wrestling, so they’ve known me my whole life. It means a lot to be out there and give them the opportunity to enjoy the moment with me.”
Notes: Penn State won the takedown battle 28-8. ... It was the first Big Ten loss for the Badgers, who were coming off of upset wins over Nebraska and Michigan. ... Local youth wrestlers showed their support for Wright with painted chests that spelled ‘Quentin.’ ... It was officially the largest crowd to watch a wrestling match at Rec Hall this season as 6,515 took in the action.