The 15,703 Penn State fans inside the Bryce Jordan Center were probably feeling nervous Friday night.
But Nittany Lions coach Cael Sanderson wasn’t — not as he watched his team rally without 133-pound starter Roman Bravo-Young for a 25-11 win over previously unbeaten Michigan.
“Not really nervous. I’m more excited to see how our team is going to respond,” Sanderson said. “This same group of guys has responded. They are tough and can win tough matches.”
Those matches Sanderson might have been referring to were at 165, 174 and 184 pounds.
The most important might have been when Vincenzo Joseph came to the mat for Penn State, with his team trailing 11-6. He faced a familiar opponent in Logan Massa, whom Joseph has beaten in three previous matchups.
Two of those three wins were by one point. Friday’s match again came down to the end.
Tied 2-2 after three periods, the duo went to sudden victory with the first point scored winning the bout. Massa and Joseph jostled for position until it was late in the sudden-victory period.
Joseph was in on a body lock on Massa. And, with a half-second left on the clock, Joseph used a back trip to bring the Wolverines’ wrestler down for the 4-2 win.
“It’s kind of fun,” Joseph said, before clarifying. “I’m not saying wrestling close matches is fun. It’s exciting. It’s a moment you are going to remember, because you want to win it and you are going to do whatever you can.”
The Nittany Lions claimed the lead in the following bout, at 174 pounds.
Penn State’s Mark Hall and Michigan’s Myles Amine were tied 1-1 with 1:52 to go in the match. Hall got in on a takedown and finished it off with 39 seconds remaining.
Amine escaped and looked for the winning points, but Hall’s solid base-line defense prevailed in a 3-2 victory. Penn State led at that point, 12-11.
Shakur Rasheed (184 pounds) made his return to the Penn State lineup, firing off two first-period takedowns on Jelani Embree. The second takedown saw Rasheed out-muscle the larger Embree to the mat in a scramble situation.
After giving up an escape and a technical point in the second period, Rasheed earned an escape of his own to hang on for a 5-3 win.
“We’d rather score more points,” Sanderson said, “but when you’re wrestling an opponent as good as what we saw tonight, you got to find a way to win those matches.”
After winning those hard-fought matches, Bo Nickal and Anthony Cassar finished the night off with two bonus-point victories.
Nickal sealed the team’s 55th straight dual win with his 53rd career pin. He didn’t earn it until the third period in a time of 5:50, but it gave Penn State a 21-11 lead.
Cassar took on highly-touted freshman Mason Parris, who was initially expected to redshirt this season. Parris had his redshirt removed at the beginning of the new year, but Cassar welcomed him to college wrestling with his signature blast-double-leg takedown early in the match.
Cassar racked up 11 first-period points, kept pressure on the freshman and rolled to a 19-8 major decision. It was the type of match that he was going to wrestle, whether his team was winning or losing.
“I came to the conclusion I was going to wrestle my match,” Cassar said, “and try to score points no matter what, if it came down to me or not. I went out there and did that.”
The dual may have ended with an expected Penn State win. But the dual didn’t exactly start off as planned — not as the Nittany Lions dropped three of the first four matches and trailed 11-3.
Penn State’s Devin Schnupp kept Drew Mattin from scoring any bonus points in the dual opening 6-0 loss. However, Michigan got a technical fall from No. 1 Stevan Micic at 133 pounds.
Scott Stossel, who filled in for Bravo-Young, made his Penn State dual debut, and it came with a price. Stossel suffered a 20-5 loss to Micic but almost had the bout’s first takedown early.
Nick Lee stopped the bleeding for the Nittany Lions only momentarily with a 10-4 win over No. 5 Kanen Storr. Michigan’s Malik Amine then ripped the Band-Aid off in the next match with a 7-5 defeat of Jarod Verkleeren.
Jason Nolf made his final Bryce Jordan Center dual count with a methodical 9-2 win over No. 3 Alec Pantaleo.
“I’m proud of the guys,” Sanderson said. “I think our guys fought hard, even the matches we lost. Michigan has a great team. We are going to see them again.”
No. 1 Penn State 25, No. 4 Michigan 11
Friday at University Park
125: No. 15 Drew Mattin, M, dec. Devin Schnupp, 6-0
133: No. 1 Stevan Micic, M, tech. fall Scott Stossel, 20-5 (7:00)
141: No. 7 Nick Lee, PSU, dec. No. 5 Kanen Storr, 10-4
149: Malik Amine, MICH, dec. Jarod Verkleeren, 7-5
157: No. 1 Jason Nolf, PSU, dec. No. 5 Alec Pantaleo, 9-2
165: No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph, PSU, dec. No. 7 Logan Massa, 4-2 (SV)
174: No. 1 Mark Hall, PSU, dec. No. 3 Myles Amine, 3-2
184: No. 2 Shakur Rasheed, PSU, dec. Jelani Embree, 5-3
197: No. 1 Bo Nickal, PSU, pinned Jackson Striggow, 5:50
285: No. 4 Anthony Cassar, PSU, major dec. No. 8 Mason Marris, 19-8
Takedowns: Michigan 13, Penn State 21
Records: Michigan (9-1, 5-1 Big Ten), Penn State (10-0, 6-0 Big Ten)
Next match: Penn State at Ohio State, Feb. 8, 8:30 p.m.