ALLENTOWN — Penn State’s Nick Nevills couldn’t help but laugh while recounting his teammate’s message to him right before the 285-pound match, the final bout of the afternoon.
“You know, it’s just like every other match,” Nevills recalled Jason Nolf telling him, “Except you lose, we lose the streak and everything else.”
“I was like, yeah, I know,” Nevills said, smiling. “This is pretty exciting.”
Nevills ended up getting the much-needed win Sunday as the Nittany Lions escaped with a 23-19 win over No. 5 Lehigh in front of 9,896 rowdy fans inside PPL Center — avoiding the upset even without starters Corey Keener and Vincenzo Joseph.
It marked the 35th straight dual victory for the Nittany Lions — a school record.
Nevills used an escape in the second period to score the opening points of his match with No. 14 Jordan Wood. In the third period, Nevills strung together a tough ride, collecting 1:48 in riding time and the 2-0 win.
“It was pretty exciting. To say it was just like any other match, I’d be lying,” the junior said. “You treat it like every other match, but to have that kind of extra excitement going out there, it was pretty cool. It was just a win. I didn’t have to go out there and try anything crazy. I could just wrestle my match.”
But that doesn’t mean the 106th meeting between the Mountain Hawks and Nittany Lions went smoothly.
Lehigh’s defending 125-pound national champion, Darian Cruz, started the dual with the first and only takedown on Devin Schnupp. He locked up a near-side cradle, rolled Schnupp to his back and earned the fall in 1:13.
The Mountain Hawks’ Scotty Parker followed suit at 133 pounds with a fall of his own in 4:12. Tied 2-2 in the second period, Parker took Dominic Giannangeli, who replaced Keener, to the mat and sunk a half-nelson on the way down.
Redshirt freshman Luke Karam kept things rolling for Lehigh. An escape in the second period and a third-period ride out were all the points Karam needed in a 2-0 win over Jered Cortez. Lehigh held a commanding 15-0 lead after three bouts.
“It was as good as we could have expected and hoped,” Mountain Hawks coach Pat Santoro said of the start. “We had to get out to an early lead because their (Penn State) horses were in the backside. The guys went out and fought hard. They knew what they had to do and did a great job. They put us in a great position to win.”
A pair of the Nittany Lions’ “horses” took over the dual.
Zain Retherford recorded a takedown 17 seconds into his match with Cortlandt Schuyler. After an escape from Schuyler and another takedown from Retherford, it was over for the Mountain Hawks’ 149 pounder.
Retherford sunk his boots in, rolled Schuyler to his back and earned the first-period pin in 1:27. It was just business as usual for the two-time defending champion.
“I mean that’s happened before throughout my career,” Retherford said of coming to the mat with Penn State trailing. “We wrestled Iowa and Oklahoma State last year, and we were in a deficit. Obviously, you want to win those first few matches, but you just got to go do your job.”
Nolf followed Retherford’s lead and earned his eighth victory of the season. But this one didn’t end like all the others, with a pin. Instead, Nolf used 11 takedowns to pick up a 23-8 technical fall of Ian Brown with 20 seconds left in his match. Penn State trailed 15-11.
Out of the break, Lehigh earned its final win of the night.
No. 15 Gordon Wolf got creative in his 24-12 win over Bo Pipher, who filled in for Joseph at 165 pounds. Wolf had a reversal in each period and had eight takedowns — three alone in the third period as Pipher seemed to be out of gas.
But, from there, with their back against the wall, the Nittany Lions’ wrestlers came out on top when the team needed them most.
The 174- and 184-pound bouts both pitted top-5 wrestlers against one another — and Penn State won both of them.
Mark Hall and Bo Nickal each used identical 3-2 victories. No. 2 Hall took care of No. 5 Jordan Kutler at 174 pounds with a second-period takedown. No. 1 Nickal had a first-period takedown as the cornerstone of his win over No. 4 Ryan Preisch. The Nittany Lions trailed 19-17 with two matches to go.
Anthony Cassar handed Penn State its first lead of the match — 20-19 — after his 197-pound bout. Two takedowns in the first period gave Cassar a 4-1 lead over Jake Jakobsen. After a scoreless second period due a solid top game from Jakobsen, Cassar tacked on two counter-takedowns for the 8-3 win. Then, Nevills came in — with a little bit of “advice” from Nolf — and took over.
“It was great for our team,” Nittany Lions coach Cael Sanderson said. “I don’t think we’ve been in a dogfight like that for a while. I think Lehigh is a very good team, which helps us to go back and work on some things we need to improve on. We got out of here by the skin of our teeth.”