UNIVERSITY PARK — The championship banners hanging from the Rec Hall rafters were rippling from the sound waves — rabid cheers from more than 6,300 Penn State fans — when Zain Retherford finished an overtime takedown against one of the country's best wrestlers.
There, at the edge of the mat with just 17 seconds left, Retherford — a true freshman wrestling in just his 11th collegiate bout — grabbed hold of Logan Stieber's left leg, pushed himself into Stieber and corralled the the two-time defending NCAA champion's right leg.
That was all Retherford needed — after a dominant rideout in the second period and a toe-to-toe third period in which both wrestlers' displayed their defensive capabilities — to hand Stieber a 4-2 loss and help propel No. 1 Penn State to a 31-6 win over No. 7 Ohio State on Sunday.
“I usually don't celebrate too much after a match but the crowd definitely got me fired up after that match,” Retherford said. “I kind of lost my head for a second. Right after the match it was electric in here.”
It remained that way for much of the afternoon where the Nittany Lions (6-0, 1-0) dominated the Buckeyes (4-1, 0-1). Penn State won eight of 10 bouts and earned bonus points in five.
Nico Megaludis and David Taylor earned technical falls at 125 and 165 pounds, respectively. Matt Brown, Ed Ruth and Jimmy Lawson picked up major decisions at 174, 184 and 285 pounds. Zack Beitz and James Vollrath picked up decision wins.
“They were loose and really, really opened up,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “(We) saw a lot of attempts. That's what we want to see.”
The Nittany Lions gave up team points at 133 and 197 pounds. Jimmy Gulibon earned the lone takedown for Penn State at 133 but couldn't get out from the bottom position in the second period and lost on an escape to No. 6 Johnni DiJulius 3-2. Wes Phipps filled in for No. 3 Morgan McIntosh at 197 and dropped a 3-1 decision to No. 5 Nick Heflin.
The highlights ended there for the Buckeyes as Penn State notched 34 takedowns to Ohio State's three.
“Terrible,” Ohio State coach Tom Ryan said. “Our fight was embarrassing. Our fight was way below our standard of excellence.”
The biggest takedown of the afternoon continued Retherford's own standard of excellence 11 matches into his collegiate career.
After giving up the first takedown to Stieber — the country's top-ranked 141-pounder — Retherford escaped and tried a few shots of his own. Although he couldn't finish them, he'd take over the bout in the second period.
Stieber chose down to start the second and Retherford quickly locked his legs through Stieber's and flattened the Buckeye star to the mat as Penn State fans roared. Stieber tried to break Retherford's grasp but couldn't get out from under the Penn State freshman's strong ride. As the second period ended with Retherford still on top, the Penn State freshman has built a 1:07 lead in riding time.
“Once I flattened him out I felt like I was in control right there,” Retherford said. “And I think he got a stalling call soon after that and the crowd was going crazy on top of it. I definitely felt like I was in control in that position. That's a dominating position and I like to stay there and keep working on top.”
From a neutral start, both wrestlers attempted shots in the third. Each one successfully defended the others' offense. But Retherford struck first in sudden victory with a deep single leg that forced Stieber back on his heels. Seconds later Retherford finished the shot and the bout.
“He was relaxed and ready to go,” Sanderson said. “That's what the great wrestlers have. They're calm and relaxed and ready and confident. They're not really worried about who they're wrestling. They're going to do the best they can and that's what Zain did.”
Ryan, who called for an unsuccessful video challenge to see if Retherford illegally locked his hands in the second period, said he hopes the loss will light a fire under Stieber who Ryan said had been sick all week.
“Hats off to Retherford,” Ryan said. “My belief is that Retherford just hopefully ensured that Logan wins his third national title. That's just what he needed.”
Beitz didn't need Retherford's strong showing to get him going. But it didn't hurt.
Filling in for Andrew Alton at 149 pounds, Beitz upset No. 19 Ian Paddock 5-3 with a late second-period reversal and a third-period escape.
“It was definitely exciting to see my teammate takedown the No. 1-ranked guy,” Beitz said. “It was encouraging to go out there and just do it. We saw that they were breaking so it made it fun.”
No. 3 Megaludis began the breaking right away with a 22-4 win over No. 19 Nick Roberts at 125. Megaludis nearly pinned Roberts midway through the second and again in the third. But his six nearfall points and six takedowns were enough to give the Nittany Lions a 5-0 lead to start.
Gulibon lost his second-straight dual meet bout on a riding time point to DiJulius immediately thereafter. Sanderson called his decision to start Gulibon from the bottom in the second period a “coach's mistake.”
“He's a guy that's coming along a little bit slower than he probably wants to because he's putting some things together but he's going to be perfectly fine,” Sanderson said.
Vollrath picked up after Beitz with two first-period takedowns en route to an 11-5 win over Randy Languis at 157. No. 1 Taylor followed with a dominant performance against Joe Grandominico and won 20-5. No. 3 Brown added five takedowns against Mark Martin to post a 16-4 win at 174.
No. 1 Ruth wrestled his first dual-meet bout in a month. Despite giving up the first takedown to No. 12 Kenny Courts at 184, Ruth responded with a reversal and coasted to a 14-3 win. Courts was penalized twice for having to tie his shoes.
No. 12 Lawson continued his turnaround campaign with a 15-4 major over Nick Tavanello at 285 pounds. Lawson notched three third-period takedowns to pick up the major decision and ice the dual meet.
Notes: McIntosh was held out with an elbow injury. ... Sanderson described the decision to keep McIntosh out of the dual as precautionary. ... Retherford won the Ridge Riley Award given to the most outstanding wrestler in a home dual. ... Lawson leads the team with 11 third-period takedowns. ... Penn State improved its winning streak over Ohio State to four straight. ... It was the 14th-straight sellout at Rec Hall for a wrestling dual. ... Penn State will face Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena for a non-conference tilt on Saturday.